Let’s be shamefully honest – E. L. James’s much discussed and debated BDSM series, Fifty Shades of Grey, is a phenomenon.
Earlier this year, The Hollywood Reporter reported that sales of the book series climbed past 100 million worldwide, joining the ranks of Twilight and Harry Potter as one of the top-selling series of all time. The steamy movie adaptation starring Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele and Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey is currently showing in cinemas.
Not bad for an author who started out writing Twilight fan fiction.
Facts Behind the Fiction
Originally, fan fiction could be defined as a work of fiction produced by fans, featuring characters from a particular film, TV or book series – but today, fan fiction draws characters from any entertainment media. The strong fan-contribution culture of fan fiction has made it a thriving, exciting community.
However, that fervor somehow does not translate to real life. Fan fiction has a dorky, uncool stigma attached to it, which makes it an uncomfortable topic in polite company.
“Most people do not think very highly of fan fiction,” says Debbi Cheong, 19, who writes Sherlock fan fiction. “They see fan fiction writers in a negative light because the content might be too explicitly sexual or unpolished.”
There is basis in that opinion – about a third of the 217,000 Twilight stories on fanfiction.net are M-rated.
Weird or Wonderful?
However, it would be unfair to label fan fiction as fodder for fangirls. There is the occasional story that is proof of the incredible dedication some fan fiction writers have to their craft. For example, The Capitol Games, a Hunger Games story written by an Australian teenager, has 54 chapters and a whopping 330,288 words. And it isn’t even finished yet. In comparison, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has 198,227 words, according to The Harry Potter Lexicon.
Quality is another benchmark difficult to quantify in the world of fan fiction. Although Jane Tan (not her real name), 18, who reads and writes fan fiction, doesn’t expect original storylines, she appreciates writers who have their own personal flair. “I’m into very cliché plots and genres, and I’ll enjoy it if it can make me laugh, cry or feel something… Fan fiction is a form of relaxation and escape for me, I like to imagine my favorite characters doing dumb things that make me laugh.”
Even so, opinions regarding creativity differ amongst readers. “Authors have to be resourceful with the characters to explore relationship dynamics,” says Wong Cai Jie, 16, who helps fan fiction writer proof-read their work before publishing, adds. “Fresh, imaginative ideas are consistently constructed and developed by those involved in fan fiction, blooming from their passion for the characters.”
Ultimately, fan fiction is a labor of love like any other hobby, and an outlet in which fans can appreciate entertainment media on a higher level. “Fan fiction are not novels. They’re fan fiction. They’re good practice and the more you write, the more you improve,” says Jane.
Debbi agrees: “These people are putting a little piece of themselves out there – it takes courage and guts, and it deserves some respect.”
A Commentary on Fan Fiction
HYPE sat down with Anthony Koh Waugh, a writer and bookseller at Booktique, to find out what he thinks about Twilight (This is where it all began for Fifty Shades), the evolution of fan fiction and what the phenomenon means for readers, writers and bookstores.
Q: What are your views on the Twilight phenomenon in the world of literature?
A: The craze over Twilight has shown us how writers have the power to change our perception towards a subject. We are all so used to the traditional vampires created by Stoker and Rice until Meyer created Edward Cullen. She romanticised a monster that girl will offer themselves to be bitten. I doubt Twilight will have such effect on serious literature readers.
Q: Do you feel that fan fiction should be recognised as literature?
A: Literature, to me, means written works of quality and artistic merit. There are fan fiction inspired by classic works and popular fiction and among them, some are better written than the others. I see fan fiction as a creative innovation and whether or not the genre should be recognised as literature will depend on the acceptance by the literary circle.
Q: What do you think fan fiction paints of our present society?
A: Fan fiction exists long before it evolves to become a web phenomenon and a pop culture today. Because it offers an alternative to the original creation (which is often written to satisfy mainstream expectation), fan fiction is perceived as challenging stereotypes, which can be good or bad to our society, depending on which side you’re on.
Q: Do you feel fan fiction novels alters the integrity of their canon? How so?
A: This question is for the original authors to decide. As far as I know, most fan fiction sites set submission guidelines on editorial matters.
Q: Would you sell fan fiction in your stores? Why or why not?
Of course! Fan fiction is a form of creative writing. Having said that, it also depends on how a particular book fits within our curation criteria.
The original version of this article can be found in HYPE Issue #40.