Fan Fiction is Criticism

Thanks to `Shaun Duke <>`_ for inspiring this little rant.

I must confess that I'm mostly uninvolved in the world of fan fiction these days, though I have traveled in "fanish" circles at various points in my past. It's not because I don't think fans have interesting things to say about literature and media, or that I don't think what's happening in fandom important and fascinating. No, I'm mostly withdrawn because I have too much on my plate and participating in fandom doesn't really contribute to the specific goals I have at this moment. But I sometimes feel that way about social science.

In any case, I'd like to put forth the following arguments for viewing fan fiction as a form a literary criticism rather than a literary attempt in it's own right:

  • Fan fiction is a form of literary criticism. Sure it's casual, sure it's written in the forum of a story, but the fan fictioner and the critic both write from the same core interest in interpreting texts and using varying readings of texts to create larger understandings of our world.
  • The fact that fan fiction looks like a story, is mostly distracting to what's happening in these texts. Fan fiction, has always been written in communities. The people who read fan fiction are largely the people who write fan fiction. Fan fiction inspires
  • The quality of fan fiction is also largely irrelevant to the point of whether fan fiction is worthwhile. More so than other forms of writing, fan fiction is less about the technical merits of the text, and more about the discursive process under which the texts are created. Better quality writing makes better fan fiction, certainly but I don't think fan fiction centers on those kinds of values.
  • Copyright, and the "intellectual property" status of fan fiction is also sort of moot. It's true that if we're being honest fan fiction impinges upon the copyright of the original author. At the same time, fan fiction doesn't really hurt creators: people aren't confused that fan fiction is "real fiction," fan fiction by and large doesn't divert sales from "real fiction," and so forth. Sure, it's a bit weird for some others to find other people playing in their sand boxes, but the truth is that authors have never had a great deal of control over what happens to their work post-publication, so it's fair.

Additionally, I think that fan fiction accomplishes something that are incredibly powerful and worthwhile that "normal" fiction cannot accomplish. Writing fan fiction can be, I'd wager, an incredibly effective educational experience for new writers, particularly genre fiction writers. By providing a very fast feedback loop with an audience of readers and writers (and lovers of literature and story telling.) Not to mention the fact that because fan fiction tends to be somewhat ephemeral and there's a wealth of inspiration and impetus for fiction, fan writers can write a lot, and if they choose in a very productive sort of way.

And that is almost certainly a good thing.

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