Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures
What's next for the boy — ok, man — wizard, now that J.K. Rowling has finished writing his story?
What's next for the boy — ok, man — wizard, now that J.K. Rowling has finished writing his story? Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures
There's no getting around it: fan fiction has a bad reputation.
Ask the critics and they'll say it's just for geeks or people unable to live in the real world. But Time book critic Lev Grossman says it's more than that; it's also part of a tradition that dates back to Homer.
Fan fiction is a way for fiction fans to tell their own stories of other people's characters — so you can write the next chapter for, say, Harry Potter, even though creator J.K. Rowling officially ended the series years ago.
In his article "The Boy Who Lived Forever," Grossman digs into the world of fan fiction.
"The sort of modern era of fan fiction began in the '60s," he tells NPR's Neal Conan, "with TV shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Star Trek."
Grossman says fans wrote not just because they wanted more stories about their favorite characters, but also because they wanted to manipulate the characters themselves. "They wanted to break boundaries and push the envelope."
But the genre's boundary-breaking reputation isn't always innocent.
"On the rare occasions when you hear about fan fiction in the mainstream media, there's a lot of focus on erotica," Grossman says. And while there's no denying erotica is a real part of the genre, he says he thinks it gets a disproportionate amount of attention.
More interesting are the examples of fans writing to tell stories that couldn't have been told on TV, like one early fan fiction tale that had the characters from Star Trek visiting the set of the show and meeting the actors who play them.
Fans also write to explore plot points the books and TV shows don't get around to.
"Even a story that is as detailed and densely plotted as, say, the Harry Potter stories, there's always going to be bits you don't see," Grossman says. Fan fiction writers can dig into what happened during lapses in time between chapters, or tell the story from a different character's perspective.
Unsurprisingly, some writers have taken umbrage at amateurs appropriating their characters. "There's a lot of passion behind that feeling," Grossman says, "and it's legitimate, in its way." But the fan fiction community still thrives.
"There's a lot of socializing — a very, very strong and mutually supportive community around fan fiction," he says. Fan fiction writers are united by their urge to "speak back to the screen," he says. They help each other with their stories, providing critiques and proofreading for one another. "It creates strong bonds between them."