Fanfiction: Platform for What Ifs or Training wheels for the real world?

I remember a time when I was looking for anything and everything to read on the internet. I had completed all the novels I had and couldn’t wait to buy another one. This was before Amazon would deliver books to a small town in India and we had to call bookshops to order our books and get out from the comfort of our homes to collect them.

Fanfiction was then introduced to me by a fluke and once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. What If Draco and Hermione turn their hateful relationship to one filled with love? What If Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan end up together? The possibilities were endless and the content was available online at my fingertips and free! Why would I ever stop reading?

We’ve all seen or heard the whispers of fanfiction around us among readers which can simply be classified as the art of writing stories adapted from other authors’ creations. Coming from a time very much before the famed Twilight fanfiction turned into mainstream Fifty Shades of Grey, Fanfiction has been around since the 1960s. Star Trek Fans created zines about the escapades of Captain Kirk and Spock and distributed them around the fan community as opposed to the medium we are all used to now: the internet.

A standard fanfiction starts with familiar names or settings and then takes a twist. Taking a form as an answer to an age old question – “What If?” and takes it to another dimension.  What if Harry and Ron fall in love and Hermione is just a sisterly sidekick? What if Romeo and Juliet survive and get married?

For some people in the Publishing industry, fanfiction serves as the training wheels for the authors before they produce their mainstream work into the world while others think of it as the platform for authors who cannot produce any work of their own. Bestselling authors still confess to writing Fanfictions even after publishing their work in the ‘real world’.

We’ve all heard of the novel ‘Eleanor and Park’ and its bestselling author – Rainbow Rowell who once wrote a 30,000 word Harry Potter Fiction between two books where Harry and Draco are a couple and are raising Harry’s kids dealing with a multitude of issues relating to step-parents and middle age. Claiming for the fanfiction to be a great procrastination technique, mainstream authors still find themselves publishing many fanfictions in a given time. In the publishing world, the divide between the fanfiction and the mainstream writers still exists to a considerable amount. While fanfiction writers have embraced their love for adapting classics and giving them their own twists and turns, the desire to be published by a publishing firm exists among all.

Sites such as Fanfiction.net, ArchiveOfOurOwn.org, and Wattpad have provided the platform for uncountable books, movies, TV shows, plays and their subsequent ‘What Ifs?’

There exists the issue of converting someone else’s intellectual property as your own, one which was easily circumvented by various authors and publishers – the well-known example being that of Twilight-fanfiction-turned-BDSM erotica “Fifty Shades of Grey” where controlling and mysterious Edward Cullen was put into Christian Grey, the enigmatic CEO who falls for Anastasia Steele, the docile and naïve counterpart to Isabella Swan. Apart from being set in the same cities – Portland and Seattle, the fanfiction grew to be widely read to such an extent that it was published into the mainstream industry and E.L James soon was a household name all over the world grossing millions in sales.

Branding it as a ‘retelling of events’, the fanfiction writers give themselves enough leeway once their work comes into the sights of mainstream publishers. Getting inspiration from characters of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and making them solve crimes together only goes to prove that the readers wanted to play with these beloved characters because they hadn’t had their fill of them. Harry Potter Fanfiction is the first on every website even after so many years since the books and movies came out and it only goes to prove that the readers and fans of the Harry Potter series want more of these characters in their lives and J.K Rowling, the author doesn’t mind if people are creative with her characters.

For the publishers, what used to be a copyright nightmare is now a way to reach the youth all around the world. While authors in the fanfiction world borrow from another writer’s world, their characters and places, the increase in the circulation of online communities has come in at the right time: when traditional publishing needs a change in their structure. Simon and Schuster took up a boy band (One Direction) fanfiction story and went on to publish it on paper which already had a built-in audience among their readers. The story titled ‘After’ was classified as a different kind of fanfiction – ‘real person fiction’ from then on.

The real question is if this welcomed change in the publishing world is here to stay or not?                    Amazon in 2013 made it possible for writers to make money writing fanfiction through a portal called Kindle Worlds after they gained permissions to publish submitted content from 24 different ‘worlds’ of various authors. For authors all around the fanfiction world, it is a fundamental method to procrastinate, try out new ideas and even connect to the art of writing that they might have missed. Giving them a productive outlet for their expressions and ideas, fanfiction only seems to be on the rise for self-published authors, authors published by a firm or even the publishing firms in the industry.

– Aparna Abhijit