Fan fiction, once an underground hobby seldom spoken about, has hit the mainstream. Spurred by successes like E.L. James’ Fifty Shades trilogy (penned originally as Twilight fan fiction) and Rainbow Rowell’s bestselling YA novel Fangirl (a fictional novel portraying characters devoted to their “fandoms”) this genre of writing has become increasingly popular across all age brackets, especially teens.
What is fan fiction? Originally a niche hobby shared through zines and in-person conventions, it is the act of creating a story based on already-established characters and worlds portrayed in literature and film. Some “fan fics” even focus on fictionalized narratives about real-life celebrities. Now, there are seemingly endless resources online where writers can share their work. These range from communities on more general blogging sites like LiveJournal and Tumblr to dedicated sites about specific fandoms such as Fiction Alley (Harry Potter). Some authors are even profiting off their work through Amazon’s new Kindle Worlds service, dedicated exclusively to the self-publishing of fan fiction.
According to a recent School Library Journal article, many teens use fan fiction as a creative outlet to improve their writing skills, make friends, and explore new emotions and experiences. One of the advantages to new sharing platforms such as Figment and Wattpad is that they integrate a social experience of providing feedback for others’ work, similar to traditional social networks like Facebook. Creating new stories about characters they already love can give teens an added incentive to keep writing and honing their crafts, in addition to providing what can sometimes be a much-needed escape from real life. Developing this skill and finding acceptance in the online world can boost a teen’s self-esteem as well. The hobby is not without controversy, though.
Some experts, including famous authors like George R.R. Martin, have voiced concerns that young writers should be using their creativity to concoct stories from scratch, as opposed to letting others create their worlds for them. There is also the issue of copyright and just how much of these already-published characters and plot lines can be manipulated under fair use. Finally, despite the fact that most fan fiction sites allow users as young as thirteen to post their work, not all fan fiction is appropriate for teens thanks to explicit sexual content, language, and even violence.
Many public librarians feel the pros of fan fiction outweigh the cons and have capitalized on this trend by creating fan fiction programs or clubs in their libraries. Still, others are wary. Should fan fiction be welcome in general writers’ groups? Should it be promoted through specific events that specially cater to that type of writing? The questions are endless.
Have you done anything to address this growing phenomenon in your library?