Fanfic: A Shady Area

Ooh Mister Darcy, comic by Kate Beaton

Credit to Kate Beaton

You know fanfiction. You’ve heard it in whispers from the grimier corners of the internet and you’ve heard that it’s poorly written, explicit sludge hatched together by greasy nerds and manic fangirls frothing at the mouth.

I humbly beg to differ.

Fanfiction is often shot down as being the uninspired work of slimy fangirls, but can we talk about the amazing fact that it even exists? No one is paid or asked to write it, it’s just created for the love of it as a tribute to the impact the original work had on its audience. Someone somewhere watches or reads something and it sticks in their brain and stirs into their imagination, switching on a light that was not there before and setting the creative process in motion.

It’s the ultimate compliment to the creator—one day, hopefully, I shall be published, and I’ll lie awake at night wondering of somewhere in the world my characters and story are rolling around in a reader’s mind, soon to come out again in a piece of creative expression.

There is much debate about it, but I think fanfic is great; it’s an opportunity to practice writing and express adoration for a series, and with characters and setting already in place, hone in on the skills required to create convincing characterisation and compelling plots.

Of course, the concept of fanfic can keep people up in the dead of night for other reasons. Naturally, if a set of characters and fictional universe have taken root in someone’s mind and are borrowed into a tribute work of their own, there comes a point where they realise: hey, this is a whole new universe I’m adopting these things I love so much into, a world of my own, where I am in control…


David Tennant laughing like an evil wizard


Fanfic exists so that imaginations ignited by the canon (official work) can explore the whatifs the creators left in their wake, speculations can be fleshed out into whole stories of their own and characters can be taken on new adventures into different times, different opportunities, different universes… and occasionally (cough) each other’s pants.

This is what people often associate fanfic with: the romance genre pocket of it (which, admittedly, is a bit more than a pocket). Those aforementioned frothing fangirls are at it, creating a myriad of scenarios to pair up characters regardless of gender, age, species, sexual preference, hero or villain status, relations and whether or not they have ever met. Anything goes because the newly inspired fan/author is now in control of a world of their own with their borrowed characters in place. It’s a godly power… and, typically of human beings, it is used primarily to make people get it on.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Many connoisseurs would argue that some pairing-based fanfic is better written than some things on the shelves of your local romance section. And some of it becomes the gaudy novels in your local romance section, to the delighted and pink-cheeked “ooh!”s from middle-aged ladies and a collective groan from the internet.

Fifty Shades of Why

Why, though

Yes, you know the horror of which I speak, and if you don’t, first of all I’d like to say congratulations for finding a quiet piece of utopia in society which I am now going to shatter for you. Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotica novel series by British writer E.L. James, about a waifish, wide-eyed and innocent heroine and her dark and deep romance with an intoxicatingly attractive and fabulously wealthy businessman. Their relationship is explored and developed over the course of the books as they have frequent, graphic and terribly written BDSM sex.

Now, if you have read and enjoyed the book, I apologise. Far be it from me, eloquent as I dare to be, to tell people not to read things that they like (especially things I myself have not read). Clearly the series is doing something right, as it’s overtaken Harry Potter as the fastest selling paperback in recent history. You can’t walk into a bookstore without being bombarded by a looming wall of silver and grey, the books engulfing you with their catchy name and pretty cover art. And they got there with little help from anyone in the paperback publishing world, self-published and publicised virtually only by word of mouth and social media. Truly an invention of the modern age.

It’s also a revised Twilight fanfiction.


This begs the question… this piece had a huge following when it was online, and so it was instantly recognised when it hit shelves—but it makes you think, how many other novels are fanfics in disguise, with their character and place names changed to avoid copyright infringement? They could be everywhere and we wouldn’t know.

I have not delved too deeply into the world of romance novels myself, be it original or fanmade, but I can safely tell you that the snippets I’ve read of Fifty Shades have left an expression on my face I’d usually associate with discovering a cockroach, in my shower, openly perving on me with his antennae waggling, and wearing a bright orange top hat. I am not going to quote it here, for my own cleanliness and sanity if nothing else, but let me leave you with the assurance that some of it is disturbingly ridiculous.

What is interesting here is not the horrible writing and wide and inappropriate use of a thesaurus on E.L. James’ part, but the fact that the series has blurred the lines between two mediums. It is, technically, officially published fanfiction, which is meant to be against the law. Otherwise, a lot more people would do it, and some of the talented writers in the fandom community would be significantly richer. But that was always meant to be the divide—fanfic stays on the internet with the fellow fans and peers, and the money is left to the creator who made the story universe up in the first place. Now that the Fifty Shades series is so popular and is carrying its origins around with it on its parade through the world of bestselling literature (sob), what does this mean for that holy divide? It will be very interesting to see.


Filed under Pop Culture Ponderings

11 responses to “Fanfic: A Shady Area

  1. I’ve seen some stuff that was basically a book form of the P & P comic… So it’s okay as long as the copyright has lapsed, I guess?

  2. Listen to the publishing wiz talkin bout creative commons and copyright! Impressive.

    The whole ‘adaptions’ genre is quite interesting. Writing out fantasies for all to witness is a bit over-sharey for my liking. I’m not going to divulge what motivates me to interact my sims the way I do. It’s just TMI that wont do the author or the reader any good. 😉

  3. Oh, and thanks for the explanation of what sounds like ’50 shades of shite’ – the literary equivalent to TV’s shires and bingles. Reading experiences from others is the only way I seem to keep up with pop culture these days (besides looking at the trending topics on twitter).

      • That said, I did do some very light reading over the break. Apart from obligatory Who magazine (can’t believe I’m admitting to it. I only ever pick it up when no-one is looking. But really, can anyone resist ‘who wore it best’?) I had a look at ’50 Shades of Grey Matter’ by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. Some (ahem) cute little facts (like ‘digital anal massage’ cures hiccups).

      • Gossip magazines are a guilty pleasure, I have to admit :L

        I love how Fifty Shades parodies have basically become their own genre. Fifty Spades of Grey, Fifty Shades of Chicken, Fifty Shades of Mister Darcy, Fifty Shames of Earl Grey…
        I’m not even going to ask what ‘digital anal massage is’ because quite frankly, befuddled as I am by that string of words, I really do not want to know

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  5. “There is much debate about it, but I think fanfic is great; it’s an opportunity to practice writing and express adoration for a series, and with characters and setting already in place, hone in on the skills required to create convincing characterisation and compelling plots.”

    I agree and it does thoroughly irritate me when I see people denouncing fanfiction as some lower form of writing. I do accept that the characters and setting are already there, but that does not mean that it isn’t a challenge in itself to keep those characters in character. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t a challenge to evoke the same mood that the book/series/film/game evoked. And, as you say, you still have to come up with the plot. I have to be careful about using that defence though, as that normally leads into a lecture about how tacky the concept of plot is and how I really ought to be ensuring that any plot I do have springs from the characters and nothing else. But that’s another debate.

    Beyond excerpts, I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey and I didn’t read it when it was a Twilight fanfiction. Based on what little I have seen of it, I’d hazard a guess that it was one of those fanfictions that gives all others a bad name. You know, the ones that are horrifically out of character, the setting has been completely twisted, something that seems to have very little to do with the the original work at all and more to do with what the writer wishes it was. It would be interesting to read about the reaction of a Twilight fan who read Fifty Shades of Grey but didn’t follow it when it was a fanfiction. I’d love to know if at any point they thought to themselves “These characters sound familiar. In fact, this sounds like it could be Twilight!”

    I’d be willing to bet that they didn’t and if I’m right, that might be what made Fifty Shades possible. The fanfiction was so bad that it could easily be tweaked into something publishable, without fear of lawsuits.

    Well, you know what I mean by publishable….

    All I’ll say for Fifty Shades is that people are enjoying it. And that, for me, is the most important thing. I’m not going to listen to anyone who claims that Fifty Shades is a magnificent work of literature but nor am I going to look down on anyone who enjoys it. Perhaps I’ll be called a blasphemer for saying this but just because I appreciate beautifully crafted language and characters does not mean that everything else is worthless. Not everyone derives pleasure from literature in the same way.

    • You have a wonderful argument there.
      I despise it when people judge fanfiction (or anything!) based on a few key offenders, or say that it’s a lower, tacky form of writing or a waste of creativity. Writing is writing, and if people are having fun with it and it’s not hurting anyone I say let them at it. And it’s all good practice! Especially for writing for TV, where you may in fact be in a situation where you will be writing plot around characters you yourself haven’t created, which is a common occurance since most shows are written by teams with members that chop and change.

      I have no desire to ever read Fifty Shades, not even to make fun of it. I mean, if you’re going to read smut, at least read well-written smut. From what I have seen, though, I think I’d have to disagree with you on the out of character statement… I could very easily make the link between Edward and Bella and their alter egos, and had to give the author credit, at least, for capturing the creepy absurdity of their relationship :L

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