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fan fiction

or fanfiction

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noun

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Origin of fan fiction

First recorded in 1995–2000; see origin at fan2, fiction
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

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What does fan fiction mean?

Fan fiction are stories written by everyday fans featuring characters, settings, and plots from their favorite, pre-existing TV, novels, manga, movies, and other media.

How do you pronounce fan fiction?

[ fan-fik-shuhn ]

Where did the term fan fiction come from?

Those with an itch to stretch their creative muscles, with a little too much knowledge about a particular franchise, and with enough get-go to put their fingers to the keyboard have all that it takes to be a fan fiction author.

Fan fiction is writing that expands on an author or creator’s existing story, characters, or fictional universe (called canon) with original situations and settings.

And if you like it, you can fanfic it. The band One Direction, the 1990s sitcom Frasier, the animated My Little Pony, and all things Harry Potter have all inspired fan fiction, to name a few examples.

Fan fiction of Harry Potter, for instance, might imagine a steamy romance between Draco and Hermione; imagined relationships are a common topic of fan fiction known as shipping. Other fan fiction mashes up entire intellectual properties, such as Harry Potter and Star Wars. Awesome, right?

The phrase fan fiction is from as early as the 1940s, initially used to poke fun at wannabe sci-fi authors published in fan magazines, or fanzines.

The word may be relatively young, but the concept is ancient. People have been writing stories about existing characters forever. The Christian Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are all fan fiction based on the life of Jesus and written for different audiences. William Shakespeare based most of his plays off myths, legends, and histories he read extensively about—fanfic 101.

Star Trek fans, or Trekkies, spawned much of contemporary fan fiction as we know it. Wanting more of the original 1966–69 TV series, Trekkies put out their own fanzines, such as Spockanalia, and sold them at a small cost at conventions, a major event of fandoms and their fan fiction.

Even from its start, Star Trek fanfiction highlighted two major themes of fan fiction as a genre.

  1. A vast majority of authors appear to be women.
  2. A great deal of fan fiction revolves around sexual content, notably featuring same-sex relationships involving characters who aren’t romantically involved in the original work. This prominent subgenre is called slash fiction, as early stories were called Kirk/Spock stories. Why these themes? Perhaps due to the patriarchy of traditional publishing and storytelling as well as the under-representation of marginalized groups in mainstream media?

Meanwhile, Japan was also developing its own fan fiction, called doujinshi, based on manga in the 1960–70s, also self-publishing them and selling them at big meet-ups.

The internet ushered in a golden age of fan fiction, creating forums such as FanFiction, LiveJournal, and Archive of Our Own for authors to post, share, read, and review fan fiction. E.L. James first published online her 50 Shades of Grey as fan fiction based on the Twilight fantasy series before its formal publication in 2011 became an absolutely massive sensation (and later film series).

Reaction to fan fiction is mixed. Some original creators like J.K. Rowling of Harry Potter feel flattered by their offshoots, while others such as Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin snub it. Star Wars allows fanzines—as long as no content is pornographic.

How to use the term fan fiction

The term fan fiction, sometimes shortened to fanfic, fic, or ff, is most widely used by fans when raving about their love of the form and community. Whether they’ve just posted their newest story or were engrossed in the latest chapter, fan fiction writers and readers often express their support for one another and their obsession with fanfic.

Depending on the context, fan fiction can carry connotations of eroticism. Whether you’re Tina Belcher of Bob’s Burgers who loves to write about zombie butts or the next E.L. James, fan fiction is not always for the prudish.

Fan fiction authors, though, have a sense of humor, sometimes laughing at their own melodrama or geekdom.

More examples of fan fiction:

“The simple word “fanfiction” causes people to scrunch their noses in distaste. Yet many people in this age don’t even know what that word means or refers to. That in and of itself is a shame because there are fanfiction authors out there that are more skilled at the art of writing than some published authors are.”
—Palak Jayswal, The Daily Utah Chronicle, June 2018

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

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