In order to analyze this question, we have to know why it’s a question in the first place. I’ve seen discontent, worries and issues that have arisen in regards to the rising popularity of fan created works. But first, what is fanfiction?
On one hand, you could technically say anything is fanfiction, if we’re going to argue semantics. Every idea has already been penned, so when you write something chances are you’re using an idea that someone already had, maybe in a different form, maybe in a new light.
But, in reality and for all intents and purposes, fanfiction is almost always related to fiction written based on existing universes, existing stories and existing characters. That is what I believe the real distinction is, where the line is drawn.
Fanfiction popularity in general can be traced all the way back to social media platforms such as LiveJournal, but over the years it has spread exponentially to places like Tumblr and Archive Of Our Own (a website purely dedicated to hosting fanfiction).
On a personal level, I’ve tried writing fanfiction multiple times, but as an independent author, I found it hard to do. It feels strange to me putting words in the mouths of characters that were created by someone else. It feels strange to me crafting a story in a universe that may not even agree with the stage that I set.
And that’s where “original characters” come in, or “OCs.” This confused me for a while, because I was under the impression that an “original character” was simply put, a character that you create out of your own volition, whether they’re attached to fanfiction or not. But I eventually came to learn that this isn’t particularly true, for some odd reason.
There’s this idea, on Tumblr, at least, that characters created through fanfiction aren’t respected in the same way that they are in original fiction. I believe that there is a huge issue, though, if you’re looking at fiction on the popularity of a character, rather than an overall story to which that character belongs. And if you think that taking a character and putting them in a piece of fiction created entirely on your own immediately earns you, or that character respect, you’d probably be surprised how dead wrong you are.
That is why I ask the question, is fanfiction changing the landscape? Is it damaging the work of those who aren’t creating fiction based on hugely popular media? Media that one could use to skyrocket their visibility based on what they create out of someone else’s work.
Why do people like fanfiction so much?
It’s simple, really. With established stories and established characters, and we’ll use Star Wars as an example, you have all of the framework. The reader doesn’t have to go into a Star Wars fanfic blind. They aren’t taking a total risk with something fresh because they already know what to expect. They already know what Hoth is like, who Darth Vader is and what kinds of things Luke Skywalker does, or thinks about.
I think that people in general are more open to reading fiction nowadays if the risk of not liking a story is much lower, and that’s where fanfiction, once again, comes in.
This issue can look even bigger if you’re, say, a marginalized person who faces prejudice and discrimination through society. You could therefore have that much more trouble breaking into an artistic scene. And if everyone is worshiping content that already has exposure, that’s already backed by mega-corporations and the media, what chance do you really have writing and creating something that nobody’s really heard of?