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Fan fiction (alternately referred to as fanfiction, fanfic, FF, or fic) is a broadly-defined term for fan labor regarding stories about characters or settings written by fans of the original work, rather than by the original creator. Works of fan fiction are rarely commissioned or authorized by the original work's owner, creator, or publisher; also, they are almost never professionally published. Fan fiction, therefore, is defined by being both related to its subject's canonical fictional universe and simultaneously existing outside the canon of that universe. Most fan fiction writers assume that their work is read primarily by other fans, and therefore tend to presume that their readers have knowledge of the canon universe (created by a professional writer) in which their works are based.


Before about 1965, the term "fan fiction" was used in science fiction fandom to designate original, though amateur, works of science fiction published in science fiction fanzines, as differentiated from fiction that was professionally published by professional writers; or fiction about fans and fandom; but this usage is now obsolete. Modern definitions of the term exclude such entirely original writing from the category. Today, "fan fiction" writers are those who use characters and situations already created by other writers in order to develop their personal and preferred views of the story.

Historical predecessors

Fan fiction as it is now understood began at least as early as the 17th century, with unauthorized published sequels to such works as Don Quixote. Older precursors include the Epic Cycle supplementing the works of Homer and the various re-tellings of King Arthur's tale which spread around Europe from the 8th century AD onward. (For example, there were no fewer than four continuations by other hands of Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval.)

Another precursor is in medieval Arabic fiction, where story cycles were formed as different storytellers added sequels to an original story, such as story cycles revolving around Harun al-Rashid or Sinbad the Sailor. Some tales were also parodied by other storytellers. Many of these story cycles and parodies were incorporated into the Arabian Nights. For example, "Wardan the Butcher's Adventure With the Lady and the Bear" is parodied by "The King's Daughter and the Ape", "Harun al-Rashid and the Two Slave-Girls" is parodied by "Harun al-Rashid and the Three Slave-Girls", and "The Angel of Death With the Proud King and the Devout Man" is parodied by "The Angel of Death and the Rich King". Sometimes even parodies were parodied, such as "The Angel of Death and the King of the Children of Israel" being a parody of "The Angel of Death and the Rich King". When the Arabian Nights was translated into French at the beginning of the 18th century, many imitations of it were written in France.

The turn of the 20th century saw parodies and revisions of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland by authors including Frances Hodgson Burnett and E. Nesbit. In addition, there were several fan-authored versions of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories.

In the 1920s and 1930s, fans of Jane Austen wrote stories based on her characters and published them in fanzines. In 1945, C. S. Lewis adopted certain elements from J. R. R. Tolkien's then largely unpublished legendarium (mostly Númenor, there spelt Numinor) and incorporated these into the last novel, That Hideous Strength, of his Space Trilogy. (Given that Lewis and Tolkien were personal friends, this could be seen more as an "homage").

Modern phenomenon

The Star Trek fanzine Spockanalia contained the first fan fiction in the modern sense of the term.
However, the modern phenomenon of fan fiction as an expression of fandom and fan interaction was popularized and defined via the Star Trek fandom and fanzines published in the 1960s. The first Star Trek fanzine, Spockanalia, was published in 1967 and contained some fan fiction. Zines were produced via photocopying and mimeography, and mailed to other fans or sold at science fiction conventions for a small fee to help recoup costs. In 1970, Mary Ellen Curtin, a Princeton Universitymarker graduate, researched the authors of various Star Trek fanfics, and her results showed an outstanding 83% female as opposed to 17% male writers; in 1973, fan writers were 90% female.

Fan fiction has become more popular and widespread since the advent of the World Wide Web. In addition to traditional zines and conventions, Usenet group electronic mailing lists were established for fan fiction as well as fan discussion. Online, searchable fan fiction archives were also established. The online archives were initially non-commercial hand-tended and fandom- or topic-specific. These archives were followed by non-commercial automated databases. In 1998, the not-for-profit site FanFiction.Net came online, which allowed anybody to upload content in any fandom. The ability to self-publish fan fiction at an easily-accessible common archive that did not require insider-knowledge to join, and the ability to review the stories directly on the site, became popular quite quickly. now hosts millions of stories in dozens of languages, and is widely considered the largest and most popular fan fiction archive online.

LiveJournal (founded in 1999) and other blogging services played a large part in the move away from mailing lists (both electronic and amateur press associations) to blogs as a means for fan communication and the sharing of fan fiction. Although much fan fiction today is published to archives, it would be impossible to tell whether more or less fan fiction today is posted directly to blogging services than to fan-fiction-specific archives.

Japanese dōjinshi

A similar trend in Japan also began appearing around the 1960s and 1970s, where independently published manga and novels, known as dōjinshi, are frequently published by dōjin circles; many of these dōjinshi are based on existing manga, anime, and video game franchises. Manga authors like Shotaro Ishinomori and Fujiko Fujio formed dōjin groups such as Fujio's . At this time dōjin groups were used by artists to make a professional debut. This changed in the coming decades with dōjin groups forming as school clubs and the like. This culminated in 1975 with the Comiketmarker in Tokyo.

Categories and Types

Fan fiction can be categorized in a number of ways. Some of these categories are similar to original Fiction, some are specialized. Please note: these categories apply to western fandoms. Anime and Manga fandoms have different conventions.

For common terminology relating to fan fiction, including some specialized subgenre terms, see the sub-article Fan fiction terminology.

Relationship to Canon

Stories are also categorized by their relationship to canon. The most common term is Alternate Universe which is frequently abbreviated AU. There are two main sub-categories of alternate universe fan fiction; stories that exist in the same "world" as canon, but change one or more major plot points (e.g. a character dies who is still alive in the source material or some event in the characters' lives is altered) and stories that take some or all characters from the source material and put them in an entirely different situation (e.g. Harry Potter goes to a regular high school).

There are several categories of "canon" stories as well, that is, stories that do not contradict the source material in any way. Missing scenes fill in parts of the story that were "left out" of the source. Episode Codas (a term that applies only to fan fiction based on TV shows) are stories that pick up at the end of an episode. These are usually written shortly after an episode airs, when viewers are left wanting more. Other categories, like pre- and post-series refer to stories that depict events taking place outside the chronological scope of the source material. Futurefic refers to any story that takes place after the currently available canon.

Romantic or Sexual Pairings

There are four main categories that refer to the romantic or sexual story elements.  Slash, het, femslash, and gen.  In almost all fandoms (Star Trek being the only known exception) slash refers to same-sex male pairings.  The term originates from the slash between the names of the characters in a relationship (e.g. Kirk/Spock).  Although all pairings are denoted with a slash, only same-sex pairings are referred to by that term.  Femslash (or, sometimes, femme slash) refers to same-sex female pairings.  Het, an abbreviation for "heterosexual," refers to opposite sex pairings.  Gen is an abbreviation for "general"  and refers to stories which do not contain a romantic or sexual plot.  

Genres and Tropes

Fan fiction stories can be written in any genre, just like literature. There are some specialized genre categories that only apply to fan fiction or, at least, the terminology is specific. Crack, angst, and WAFF/fluff/schmoop are well-known examples.

Certain tropes are also used and reused in fan fiction. There are so many of these that it would be impossible to name them all, and they vary greatly from fandom to fandom. High school and college AUs are common in many fandoms that don't already take place in school settings. Hurt-Comfort is broadly popular.


The term kink has a somewhat different connotation in reference to fan fiction than it does in mainstream culture. Sexual tropes or situations are often referred to as kinks whether or not they are particularly "adventurous." Sometimes the term is even more broadly applied to describe plots or tropes that people enjoy, regardless of whether or not they are sexual in nature.


Crossovers are stories that incorporate two or more different sources. For example, an author may take a character from Canon A and place him or her in the universe of Canon B, or characters from two or more fandoms may meet at a neutral location. These stories often include romantic or sexual pairings between characters from different canons.


Categorization by story length varies greatly among fandoms and among individuals. It is a common practice in many fandoms to list word count in the header information, especially on LiveJournal. and other archives may have specialized rules. Terminology for story length also varies. Some commonly used terms are drabble (either a story of exactly 100 words or a very short story) and ficlet (longer than a drabble, but still very short). Longer stories may be called longfic, epic, or novel-length, but these are typically not labels that would be applied by the author.


It is common, especially in fandoms based on U.S. source material, to provide a rating based on MPAA movie ratings G through NC-17. Ratings are usually accompanied by a brief statement of the reason for the rating; sexual content, violence, or language, for example. "Adult" or "Mature" are also commonly used to refer to content equivalent to an R or NC-17 rating.

Story creation in the online era

Fanfiction is often posted serialized as a "work in progress" or WIP, with new chapters published in sequence, sometimes as soon as they are finished. Chapters may take anything from a day to several months to be updated and often remind readers of their place in the story with each new installment. Most archives allow authors to upload individual chapters sequentially under a single title with a main link to the first chapter, and each chapter easily linked to via a drop down menu.

It is often considered wise in fan fiction circles to acquire the aid of a "beta reader," sometimes shortened to "beta," whose responsibilities are roughly those of a professional editor to a commercial author—with the exception that the "beta" is most commonly a volunteer who works without pay and on a casual basis and communicates through E-mail or private message systems. Writers are discouraged in some circles from posting fan fiction that has not at least been checked for grammatical, spelling, consistency and plot errors by a beta reader. In late February 2008, set up an area of their site that contains a list of authors willing to "beta" other authors' "fic."

Interactivity in the online era

Unlike traditional print publication, the internet offers the option of giving and receiving rapid feedback. or "reviews". Reviews can be given by both anonymous and registered users of most sites, and sites are often programmed to notify the author of new feedback, making them a common way for readers and authors online to communicate directly. This system is intended for a type of bond between the reader and the writer, as well as helping the author improve his or her writing skills through constructive criticism, enabling him or her to produce a better work next time. Occasionally unmoderated review systems are abused to send flames, spam or trolling messages. As a result, the author of the story can either disable or enable anonymous reviews, depending on his preference. Internet fanfiction, particularly of large fandoms like The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, gives young writers a wider audience for their literary efforts than ever before, resulting in improved literacy.

Recently fan fiction has seen greater use of the forum or LiveJournal blog format. Built around message board systems, stories are posted on threads with feedback interlaced and immediate. This style of fan fiction is more interactive but also can be a distraction since the stories and comments are between each other. These communication methods make fan fiction sites and blogs useful affinity spaces as writers are able to take readers' feedback and improve their skills and abilities as writers. This informal learning is a side benefit for many fan fiction authors, some of whom eventually attempt or go on to writing professionally.


Fan fiction is a derivative work under United States copyright law.

Some argue that fan fiction does not fall under fair use.. The 2009 ruling by United States District Court judge Deborah A. Batts, permanently prohibiting publication in the United States of a book by a Swedish writer whose protagonist is a 76-year-old version of Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye, may be seen as upholding this position regarding publishing fanfic, as the judge stated, "To the extent Defendants contend that 60 Years and the character of Mr. C direct parodic comment or criticism at Catcher or Holden Caulfield, as opposed to Salinger himself, the Court finds such contentions to be post-hoc rationalizations employed through vague generalizations about the alleged naivety of the original, rather than reasonably perceivable parody."

Others such as the Organization for Transformative Works uphold the legality of non-profit fan fiction under the fair use doctrine, as it is a creative, transformative process.

In 1981 Lucasfilms Ltd. sent out a letter to several fanzine publishers asserting Lucasfilm's copyright to all Star Wars characters and insisting that no fanzine publish pornography. The letter also alluded to possible legal action that could be taken against fanzines that did not comply. Later that year, the director and legal counsel of the Official Star Wars Fan Club sent fanzine publishers a set of official guidelines. Lucasfilms supported fan publications contingent on their upholding these guidelines.

In recent years, several prominent authors have given their blessings to fanfiction, notably J.K. Rowling. Rowling said she was "flattered" that people wanted to write their own stories based on her characters. Similarly, Stephenie Meyer has put links on her website to fanfiction sites about her characters from the Twilight series.

However, Anne Rice has consistently and aggressively prevented fan fiction based on any of her characters (mostly those from her famous Interview with the Vampire and its sequels in The Vampire Chronicles). She, along with Anne McCaffrey and Raymond Feist, have asked to have any fiction related to their series removed from FanFiction.Net.

Most authors, however, seem to turn a 'blind eye' towards fan fiction - not actively approving it, but not discouraging it, either. In some cases this tolerance may be due to the fact that, due to the internet, preventing fan fiction from being published would be an expensive and almost impossible task.

See also



  1. [1] Franson, Donald. FANDBOOK No. 1: A Key to the Terminology of Science-Fiction Fandom. National Fantasy Fan Federation, 1962.
  2. [Constant, Paul. "Where No Man Has Gone Before" Newsweek Web Exclusive May 5, 2009]
  3. John Grant and John Clute, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, "Arabian fantasy", p 52 ISBN 0-312-19869-8
  4. Spockanali, #1
  8. Tosenberger, Catherine (2008) "Homosexuality at the Online Hogwarts: Harry Potter Slash Fanfiction" Children's Literature 36 pp.185-207
  9. Burns, Elizabeth and Webbr, Carlie. "When Harry Met Bella: Fanfiction is all the rage. But is it plagiarism? Or the perfect thing to encourage young writers?" School Library Journal, 8/1/2009
  10. Chan, Sewell. "Ruling for Salinger, Judge Bans 'Rye' Sequel" New York Times, July 1, 2009

Further reading

External links

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