Fanfiction: The Story Behind The Stigma

Fanfiction: The Story Behind The Stigma

By: Caroline MacLellan

April 4th, 2023

Whether they’ve read it or not, many people are familiar with fanfiction. Fanfiction is fiction typically written by the fans of fictional books, movies, video games, and more. Almost every online fandom has members that churn out alternative versions of their favorite media. While fanfiction is so popular that websites like Archive of Our Own host millions of uploads, a brutal stigma pervades the genre. 

Those against fanfiction often describe the genre as cringe-worthy, stolen, lazy and illegitimate, among other scathing adjectives. Much of the hatred comes from outsiders looking in, but even fandom members have occasionally dished it out. These people have a variety of “reasons” for their hatred, though most of them are violently misogynistic. This largely stems from the fact that most fanfiction authors are women.

Society tends to shame women for their interests, including writing fanfiction. While some fanfiction simply explores alternate timelines or universes, others are sexually explicit with minimal plot. 

There’s nothing wrong with writing sexually explicit fiction, yet women who do so are often ridiculed for it. Many people perceive female desire as shameful—something that should be hidden—thus influencing the idea that fanfiction, whether explicit or not, is shameful as well.

While misogyny certainly accounts for plenty of fanfiction hatred, others claim this is entirely irrelevant. Such fanfiction denouncers cite both the moral and legal dilemmas they see in fanfiction. 

Since fanfiction “cannot exist apart from the creative texts, whether novels, television programs, or movies, on which it is based,” many people believe it’s an immoral activity that should be considered stealing from the original creators.

Fanfiction raises a plethora of questions surrounding copyright and ownership, but the legality of it is still rather murky. 

Though some critics think it should be illegal to write fanfiction, since most fanfiction authors don’t make money from the fics they write, it’s difficult to say they’re violating copyright laws. 

Aside from the fan critiques, some authors  tend to have negative perceptions of fanfiction, leading others to question the morality of the activity. Two notorious critiques come from the author of “Outlander,” Diana Gabaldon, and George R.R. Martin, the author of “A Song of Ice and Fire” (which inspired “Game of Thrones”). 

George R.R. Martin discussed his thoughts regarding fanfiction in a 2010 blog post. One of his biggest gripes with fanfiction is consent. His post read, “If a writer wants to allow or even encourage others to use their worlds and characters, that’s fine. Their call. If a writer would prefer not to allow that… well, I think their wishes should be respected.”

He also clarified more of his thoughts regarding fanfiction in a 2019 interview. He first stated that he wasn’t a fan of fanfiction, then went on to say that fanfiction is poor practice for people trying to write professionally. On that note, he said, “You have to invent your own characters, you have to do your own world-building, you can’t just borrow from Gene Roddenberry or George Lucas or me or whoever.”

Martin’s fanfiction critiques were sparked by Diana Gabaldon’s fanfiction rant in 2010. Following Gabaldon’s blog post, a wave of fanfiction writers and readers criticized her position on the topic. Despite the criticism, she made it clear that she detested the fanfiction written about her books and characters. 

Gabaldon also expressed thoughts about viewing her characters  like her children, as did George R.R. Martin. Seen from their perspective, it’s understandable why they’d find fanfiction uncomfortable. Not only are their books their livelihood, they also have an emotional connection to the characters and stories they’ve created, and thus feel that altering them is like a violation. 

Although there are authors who encourage their fans in their fanfiction endeavors, it’s important to empathize with those against it. 

Though many people have their gripes about fanfiction, it’s unlikely that people will stop writing it. 

After all, fanfiction is an expressive creative outlet for multitudes of people. Authors and other fans alike can have their criticisms about fanfiction, but unless fanfiction becomes illegal, fans will keep churning out their own unique interpretations of their favorite media.

Caroline MacLellan is a junior studying professional and public writing, with a minor in Japanese. In her free time, she loves watching Korean dramas, reading manga and creative writing.