I read this article in Time Magazine about Harry Potter and all the associated fan fiction. (It’s well worth your time to read it, whether you’re a writer or not.)
Pardon me if I’m being too technical with this definition, but fan fiction is fiction written by fans. They take the characters from Harry Potter or Twilight or Star Trek or Bewitched or Glee and put them in scenarios of their own imagining. What if Kirk and Spock were gay? What if Harry Potter went to school at Hollywood High instead of Hogwarts? What if Luke Skywalker went to the Dark Side? What if Quinn kept her baby? What if Larry Tate wasn’t so stupid?
Sometimes there’s sex in the stories. Sometimes they project the characters into the future. Or the past. Sometimes the authors are amateurs, but often they’re other published writers. Regardless, each story they tackle answers that age old question all writers ponder … “what if?”
There are many authors who are very proprietary with their characters, never wanting anyone else to touch them. Other authors are thrilled that fans love the characters so much they want to manipulate them into scenarios of their own.
I’ve never written fan fiction, nor do I have characters that other people want to write about — yet. Honestly, I don’t know what I think about this. But I sure would like to see a story with Spock and Larry Tate teaching Luke Skywalker the advertising business at Hogwarts. Of course, their neighbors, Kirk and Quinn, would keep their baby and it would grow up to be Sue Sylvester. They wouldn’t invite the neighborhood vampires to their backyard BBQs, though. It would only lead to heartache. And indigestion.
So which is it? As Lev Grossman asks, “Do characters belong to the person who created them? Or to the fans who love them so passionately that they spend their nights and weekends laboring to extend those characters’ lives, for free?”