With the emergence of the Fifty Shades series – written in the first place as Twilight fanfiction – publishers, authors and the public finally seem keen to pay attention to the subculture. But is it a real literary movement, some bored nerds writing erotica, or something else? We tried to find out, took a look at how it all began, and pulled together these 26 ways in which the phenomenon has evolved until now.
A is for Argonautica
First things first: authors making new works using pre-existing characters and situations has been around a long old time. Way before Twilight and Star Trek, before Shakespeare and the New Testament, you’ll find The Argonautica. Readers of this 3rd century BC epic would have been more than familiar with the characters involved: Orpheus, Heracles, Mopsus and co would all be recognisable in their own rights, making the Argonauts essentially the Avengers of their day. Apollonius Rhodius’s big addition to the story, though, was the closer study of the romance between Jason and Medea, and with this small refocusing, he pretty much puts down the prototype for the fanfiction and weird fucking that will appear in the future.
B is for Beyonce
In 2013, Cassandra Gillig – who recently “won the internet” – put together “Jayonce: a fanfiction”. It’s an inspiring multimedia slideshow in honour of Mr and Mrs. Knowles-Carter. Gillig has previously also written a version of a potential script for Ghostbusters III – featuring bassoons, mariachi bands and weeping angels at the gates of Hell – as well as a story about David Lynch scoring a touchdown at the Superbowl.
Gillig isn’t the only one to be seduced into writing work about B: Am I Cool author Heiko Julien wrote a short story titled “Beyonce Decides to Get a Dog”.
I am good at strutting and making the kinds of faces people like to see,” she thinks, looking at a picture of herself making a face.
C is for Crossover
Imagining what would happen if two characters from separate universes met up is a pretty standard starting point for a lot of fanfiction. And yet... how many people had actually wondered what would happen if Goku from Dragonball Z met (and fell in love with) Anne Frank? Stilll, proudly batshit crossovers like this are nothing new, or even specific to fanfiction: there was an issue of Archie Comics that featured a machine-gun toting The Punisher, likewise there was a Marvel-endorsed Spider-Man vs Powdered Toast Man face-off.
It doesn’t always go smoothly, though. In 2009, Fredrik Colting, a 33-year old from Sweden, was blocked from publishing what was essentially a metafictional piece of fanfiction titled “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye” under the pen-name John David California (aka J. D.)., In his book, a notably Holden Caulfield-esque character named Mr. C crossed over into the “real world” inhabited by his creator, “Mr. Salinger”. The book is still available, though, in the UK.
D is for Darkfic
Like a lot of fanfiction terms, darkfic and deathfic are relatively self-explanatory. So: how about a novel-length series about a violent, despotic Sonic the Hedgehog? Or how about a piece titled “HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH” which spends its first chapter detailing Dobby and Harry Potter mutilating and cannibalising a series of astronauts? If that’s for you, there’s basically an Internet-full of it.
There are variants of darkfic depending on how you like your misery doled out. “Whumpage” is the act of heaping injury on a favourite character. So if that sounds nice, how about “Anacondas of the Night”, a short story about Kenan and Kel being attacked and slowly tortured by a group of three men. Aw, here it goes.
E is for Ebooks
The ebooks at Bear Parade include early works by Tao Lin, Matthew Rohrer and Ellen Kennedy among others. Two of the best pieces on the site are Noah Cicero’s reworking of Nosferatu and "nervous ass face" by Brandon Scott Gorrell, which features characters named Raymond Carver, Bret Easton Ellis and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Tom Cruise looks at the disaster from a nearby cliff
someone in white shoes drops a coin on the crosswalk
a milk crate is fastened to a bike with a person pedaling it
lots of us have become stop signs without roads
Bruce Willis is in a Chinese restaurant. He opens a fortune cookie & it reads “Surprise!”. Puzzled, he opens another one. A pug leaps out— Fred Delicious (@Fred_Delicious) July 26, 2013
F is for Fred Delicious
Twitter is the breeding ground of a new kind of fanfiction which is taking a number of forms. One of these is in the recurrence of pop culture characters in sequences of themed tweets, for example in those by famed dildo- and Hitler-enthusiast Fred Delicious. Alternatively, Twitter users have devoted whole accounts to celebrities. Some of the most visibly successful examples being Peter Molydeaux, Michael Haneke and Drake.
All of this can lead to confusion, however, when celebrities are actually a bit interesting. Is this really steroid-boosted six-time-All-Star former baseball player and Toronto mayoral candidate Jose Canseco’s twitter? Is that really 71-year-old professional-wrestler-from-the-1980s The Iron Sheik?
G is for Gannon
Pangur Ban Party, the online publisher of poetry and short fiction, has something of a pedigree when it comes to works of fanfiction. Having published pieces that involve protagonists as diverse as members of the Wu Tang Clan, the Ninja Turtles and even Bernhard Goetz. More recently they have published Chris Killen’s fanfiction about my cat and Shaun Gannon’s collection of short fiction about Macauley Culkin, Casual Glory; or, Macaulay Culkin Does Nothing, which remain two of the best books on the site.
H is for Humour
In 1740, Samuel Richardson’s Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded was published. The book was a huge, unexpected success and various unofficial and unsanctioned sequels were written by fans of the originals. Alongside these “sequels”, however, a number of satires were put out, the most famous of which, An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews, was by Henry Fielding. There’s always been a distinction between these two types of responses to original works, but satires and parodies can still function as good works of fanfiction. McSweeney’s has a long pedigree of pop culture characters and settings (whether it’s Star Wars, G. I. Joe or Lord of the Rings) being used in some of their better works.
Jimmy Chen is one writer who is particularly adept at this type of thing, whether it’s imagining Raymond Carver as a lonely NYC singleton in “Raymond Carver’s OKCupid Profile, Edited by Gordon Lish” or putting himself in character as Proust and reviewing Nyquil.
When a man is asleep, that is, completely knocked out by precarious amounts of acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, and doxylamine, the cyclical lunacy of time collapses into a blunt soggy point, so heavy and fat that it seems to replace one's brain
I is for If it exists, there IS porn of it
Rule #34 of the Internet states that if something exists, then porn of it almost certainly exists too; the same is more-or-less true for (probably pretty fucked up) adult fanfiction.
No longer do you only have you own imagination if you wondered how a character from a popular Japanese manga would go about fucking people-sized Tetris blocks: just go ahead and read “Getting Around the Block”. Or what it would be like if Wiggins from Pocahontas had sex with Stitch from Lilo & Stitch: here is “A Tale of Passion and Blue Fur”, enjoy. One piece of fanfiction in particular, about members of Panic! At The Disco engaging in pretty specific milk-oriented fun, became so well known that one of the protagonists felt it necessary to acknowledge it on YouTube.
There comes a time. The pain of existence transcends the fear of change. There comes a time.— katy bucci (@biebercrazie4u) May 31, 2013
J is for Justin Bieber
Justin Bieber is more or less omnipresent in the work of Internet-bard Steve Roggenbuck, who even named a section in his 2012 book Crunk Juice after the singer, and who previously ran a Belieber-esque Twitter account, @biebercrazie4u.
Teddy Wayne, who had previously written a relatively self-explanatory piece in McSweeney’s titled “Ashton Kutcher Fan Fiction: “The Middle School Dance” by Melissa Bell, Age 13.”, published The Love Song of Jonny Valentine in February 2013, a brilliant novel the protagonist of which is presumably based to a pretty large degree on Bieber.
K is for Kink
Kinks – in other words turn-ons – are often the main reason someone will choose to read a piece of fanfiction, often just as much as the fictional universe it takes place in or the particular characters involved. These are usually tagged at the top of page and could commonly range from something as simple as a “bad boy” character in the story through to to the presence of “sex pollen” (namely an intoxicating pollen in the air in the that makes people need to have sex). There are some good, extensive lists of these. (An abbreviated list for those of a TL;DR disposition: auctions, depilation, docking, MPREG, mummification, seraglios, tentacle sex, woke up gay.) Anyway. There’s a lot.
L is for L.H.O.O.Q.
Is L.H.O.O.Q a work of fanfiction?
Is Wide Sargasso Sea fanfiction?
Is Reality Hunger fanfiction?
Are recut trailers fanfiction?
Is Miley twerking fanfiction?
Is karaoke fanfiction?
I could probably try to argue they are, but don’t worry I’ll spare us.
M is for Matthew Baker Thompson
Facebook has seen a rise in fake profiles and fan pages wherein people impersonate celebrities in what could be described as a new development of fanfiction. Matthew Baker Thompson is one half of the team behind Matt Romney – a spoof presidential candidate in the 2012 election who pledged to focus on tax cuts and partying– and, more recently and successfully, Tom hank. He has also published an ebook of poems about the richly-imagined-but-severely-depressed interior life of retired Romanian basketball player Gheorghe Muresan, titled Muresan Among Us, as well an epic poem called “Blood Yacht” that prominently features Jerry Springer.
N is for Name Smooshing
"Name smooshing" is a common way to denote the core relationship pairing in a fanfic. Thus, the popular Severus Snape and Harry Potter pairing becomes "Snarry". Chandler and Monica, for whatever reason, become “Mondler”.
Larry Stylinson – a name smoosh of Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson – refers to huge body of work that imagines a relationship between the two members of One Direction. Shipping – from “relationship” – means to make two characters romantically involved who weren’t explicitly previously, and as such “Larry shippers” has become the name for the growing section of fans who are convinced that the two are being forced by the band’s management to conceal the relationship.
O is for Orson Scott Card
Orson Scott Card, who earlier this year seemed to have a lot of fun shooting himself in the dick in a thinkpiece comparing Barack Obama to Hitler, is something of an emblem of the changing attitudes towards fanfiction. As recently as 2004, Card stated that “The time to write fan fiction is 'never'” and described it as “morally identical to moving into my house without invitation and throwing out my family”. He has since, however, changed his mind completely and has seemed to accept it as not only a fact of life, but actually a bit of a boon, going as far as to say: “Every piece of fan fiction is an ad for my book. What kind of idiot would I be to want that to disappear?” The kind of idiot who has lots of very bad ideas about lots of things. Anyway.
P is for Popeye
Popeye features heavily in the epic, Pushcart-nominated poem “WHEN WE MOVE AWAY FROM HERE, YOU’LL SEE A CLEAN SQUARE OF PAPER WHERE HIS PICTURE HUNG” by Patricia Lockwood. Excerpt:
Popeye” goes hunting and brings down a 12-pointer. He drags the body to a clearing. “Thought bubble, thought bubble,” he says meditatively, and eats the lungs.
Q is for Quixote
There are two main terms for how show writers can respond to the fanfictions that their creations have spawned. The first is to alter a part of the received “canon” that fans have taken for granted (this is known as being “Jossed”, named for Joss Weedon who regularly changed or added facts in order to take shows in a different direction than fans had assumed). The other is the opposite: to incorporate fan ideas or developments into the show itself (this is known as “Kripked”, named for Eric Kripke, creator of Supernatural).
Though it’s now published as a single book, the second volume of Cervantes’ Don Quixote was published 10 years after the original. In it, Cervantes reveals that all the characters are now not only now aware of the existence of the previous volume of the novel (featuring themselves) but are also aware of a fraudulent and unauthorised second volume which (in reality) had recently been published by a different author. All of this is relatively metafictional for what is essentially the world’s first novel. In doing this, though, Cervantes manages a simultaneous Jossing – undermining his fans’ expectations and taking the work in a completely unexpected direction – and Kripkeing – incorporating and co-opting what was effectively a work of fanfiction into his own book. Not too bad for someone writing in 1615.
R is for Real Person Fiction
Real Person Fiction is just what it sounds like, and it can be about anyone from athletes to reality show contestants. The Brontes were writing RPF back in the the 19th century; their stories about the Duke of Wellington featured the travails of prominent real life figures from the Napoleonic wars. Heck, what else are Shakespeare’s history plays?
Fanfiction.net closed its doors to real person fiction in 2003, but it has since grown in popularity. It can come in all sorts of guises, whether David Foster Wallace’s “Little Expressionless Animals” featuring Alex Trebek, Vicki Tingle’s “Poem 4 Skrillex” or Don DeLillo’s “Pafko at the Wall”. This fictional imagining of Shia Labeouf livetweeting being acid went pretty much viral and garnered over 70,000 notes on Tumblr.
What if Good Will Hunting today Matt Damen work at Apple Store He aproach couple looking at iMacs MATT DAMEN: How do you like them Apples— Seinfeld Current Day (@Seinfeld2000) August 23, 2013
S is for Seinfeld2000
Seinfeld2000 is a parody of the extremely-tired SeinfeldToday Twitter parody account. So what makes it particularly noteworthy is that, to some extent, it is a fanfic about a fanfic. It’s also still funny as hell. Seinfeld2000 subsequently wrote a full ebook, “The Apple Store”, which got to #2 on Smashwords’ bestseller list before being pulled offline; however, it’s finally being serialised at Gawker.
T is for Titular
Titular is a massive repository of fiction that is named after existing works in film, television or literature. It started publishing around 2008 and featured works such as Blake Butler’s take on Twin Peaks, Sam Pink’s “Saved by the Bell”, Amelia Gray’s “Kids Say the Darnedest Things”, Ken Baumann’s “The West Wing”, Brandi Wells’ Kill Bill volumes I and II, and Spencer Madsen’s “Antichrist”. Matthew Savoca has a story there which - for good measure - even features the aforementioned Blake Butler. We trippy.
U is for Ulrich
There was never going to competition for this letter. Ulrich Haarbuste has dedicated a number of years to essentially reworking and perfecting the story of Roy Orbison in Clingfilm. The technique of wrapping Roy up seems more or less set in stone: “I start from the feet and work my way up” as the stories on the site inevitably say. Haarbuste even went as far as publishing a novel in the same vein, which checks in at an impressive 200 tightly-packed pages (albeit including the website stories and an appendix of five or so short German-language pieces). A clingfilmed-god among men.
I bring it from the kitchen, all the rolls of it. 'I have a surprising amount of clingfilm,' I say with a nervous laugh. Roy merely nods.
'I estimate I must have nearly a kilometre in the kitchen alone.'
'As much as that?' He says in surprise. 'So.'
V is for !verse
The concept of alternate universe, or AU or !verse, is important in fanfiction. It could be a universe in which Bambi’s mum survives but is kind of an arsehole, where Kevin McCallister from Home Alone actually manages to kill the Wet Bandits or where Gretchen finally makes “fetch” happen. AUs let authors can explore other possibilities without “encroaching” on canon.
Be warned though: a Live Kennedy Universe doesn’t refer to the American political dynasty, but rather an AU where Archie Kennedy doesn’t actually die in an episode of late 90s ITV series Hornblower. Don’t embarrass yourself like I did.
W is for Wtffanfiction
Sure, all writing is bad to someone, but there is an unashamed ton of bad writing in fanfiction. Wtffanfiction is a Tumblr that pulls together as much of all the worst of fanfiction as it can find. A nice first point-of-call is their list of hundreds of words used to describe genitalia in fanfiction. “Pants weasel”, indeed.
Similarly, badfic is a self-explanatory term used to describe certain pieces of fanfiction, often (but not always) which are intended to be as bad as possible. Badfic helped to spawn, and was massively helped by, the emergence of the dramatic reading meme (see above).
X is for X-Files
First appearing on TV at the same time as the slow initial migration of people onto the Internet, X-Files was one of the first shows where the majority of fanfiction appeared online. The sexual tension between Mulder and Scully seemed more or less tailor-made for this sort of thing.
The show is still generating interesting work. Gregory Sherl has written and published over half a dozen X-Files poems in various prominent bits of the net. He also published a book, The Oregon Trail is The Oregon Trail, based on the classic 1970s computer game. Christopher Lirette also recently published an X-Files piece in the Southern Review.
Y is for Yeezy
Beyonce may have inspired one of the finest multimedia presentations you’re like to see, but Kanye managed to inspire an entire book: #GOODLITSWERVEAUTUMN. Published by NAP, the book sees Kanye in various guises (from a malevolent demi-god to setting up a bookshop carved into the side of the mountain) and features contributions by Lily Hoang and Brian Oliu, among others, as well (again) as Gregory Sherl.
Through a haze of multi-colored parrots flapping against the ceiling, she can just see the speck above the crowd that is Kanye West. The mouth of the mosaic has opened, revealing straight, white mosaic teeth, and now he descends in a personal hot air balloon.
Kanye has also both been a fixture on the Rap Industry Fan Fiction Tumblr, which is (once again) exactly what you’d expect.
Z is for Zine
While they’re understandably far less common today, zines are generally seen as the starting point of fanfiction. Because of this, they are the birthplace for a lot of the terminology. In particular, “Slash” (the term for homosexual pairings in fanfic) takes its name from the punctuation mark between the members of one of fanfiction’s first and most enduring “ships”: Kirk/Spock. So, there you go. Having started with one sort of starting point, we can end with another. OK. Nice.
Follow Crispin Best on Twitter here @crispinbest