Stuart Houghton Freelance writer and IT nerd London, UK
Fan Fiction is used to describe everything from short stories to fully developed novels that take existing characters and situations from fiction and weave them into new stories. FanFic, as it is also known, is usually a labour of love by fans of books, comics, TV shows, films or even games. Creating fan fiction is a popular hobby and there are many online communities and groups where fan fiction is shared and encouraged.
A typical piece of fan fiction might take a favourite character from a TV show and describe an adventure that fills in the gaps not covered by the storyline broadcast on the TV. More whimsical fan fiction might combine characters from different stories or genres, often for comic effect. You might have a story about The Doctor travelling through time to meet the characters from Call The Midwife or the crew of the Starship Enterprise discovering a planet populated by Clangers.
It’s (mostly) harmless fun and can be a great way to encourage children to experiment with creative writing. A number of published authors such as Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries) and Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments) honed their talents making fan fiction and there is a convincing argument to be made that TV shows like Sherlock are just fanfic that happen to have a big budget and some good PR.
Anne Jamison is a US academic and the author of Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World, ‘Kids have always written fanfic in notebooks (see the Brontës) and that can continue. But many children do post online, and get a lot out of it.’
Some sites offer a real sense of community and encouragement for new writer. The Harry Potter fansite Mugglenet has a busy forum area full of fanfic writers who offer advice on character development and constructive criticism to beginners.
‘It can also build a sense of community and shared interest, can teach young people how to learn from criticism and praise, discover what works and what doesn't, discover how differently different readers react. There is, though, a dark side - sometimes those comments can be very negative indeed.’
There is something else that you should watch out for as a parent. There are sub-genres of fan fiction that are concerned primarily with putting characters in a sexual or explicitly adult context. 'SlashFic' (from the construction Character1/Character2) can often be extremely graphic and is probably not something you would want your child to come across accidentally.
‘Most fanfiction is not erotic or mature in themes,’ says Jamison, ‘but a lot of it is, and the original intended audience of the source (Thomas the Tank Engine, say) is no guarantee of that there's not adult material about it.’
‘A good solution (and the one that complies with [fanfic websites] terms of service) is for parents to be in charge of uploading stories. They can then also prescreen any comments the children might receive.’
Many fan fiction sites such as Fanfiction.net and Archiveofourown.org offer content rating and filtering, but as with any internet use there is no subsititute for taking the time to look at fanfic sites with your child and discuss boundaries.
Does your child enjoy reading or writing FanFic? Do you? Tell us in the comments below.