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Monday, May 16, 2016

A Beginner's Guide to Fan Fiction

When DC began "The New 52" back in 2011, Dan Didio told writers to work on their titles "as if they were writing fan fiction." Considering how angry many fans were when they heard the universe was getting rebooted yet again, this probably wasn't the best way to phrase the company's new direction, since the realm of fan fiction -- also known as "fanfic" or simply "fic" - - can be inconsistent when it comes to quality. In fact, some people dismiss fan fiction altogether as non-canonical ramblings by inexperienced writers, but that's akin to dismissing all comics as kiddie fare. Both mediums have a wide variety of tales to offer readers if you take the time to look around.

Full disclosure: I've been writing fan fiction for a website called DC2 since its inception in 2005. The original concept was to rebuild the DC Universe from scratch, in the hope that we could deliver the sorts of stories that made us fall in love with these characters to begin with, all while avoiding the continuity pitfalls that the "real" DCU kept tumbling into every time they rebooted. Over the past 11 years, the site has broadened to include multiple DC Earths, plus an Elseworlds category for one-off ideas. I'll admit, we've goofed up once or twice ourselves, but overall it's been fun to envision these heroes and villains taking similar-yet-different paths through their lives, and I'm glad to have contributed to it. In a way, I'm taking part in a millennia-old tradition.

While the term itself didn't exist until 1939 (and was originally used to distinguish amateur-written sci-fi from "pro fiction" by more-established writers), the concept of fan fiction has been around as long as people have been making up stories. Any time someone told a new tale about a preexisting character from legend like Robin Hood or the Monkey King, they were essentially creating fanfic. The notion of one person or corporation owning -- and, by extension, controlling -- a fictional work didn't really exist until the 17th Century, when the printing press was invented, followed by the first copyright laws being passed to protect the works produced by them. By the end of the 19th Century, we get our first glimpse of the modern definition of fan fiction, as readers obsessed with Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes began to produce plays, stories, and parodies about the character (some by rather famous authors like J. M. Barrie and Mark Twain).

page from THE UNITED AMATEUR. Jul,1923. Vol. XXII, No.6.: LOVECRAFT, H.P.) photo source:
Hey... H.P. Lovecraft wrote fanfic, too! THE UNITED AMATEUR (1923)

As the phenomenon of pop culture and fandom grew, so did fan fiction: typewritten copies of stories got passed around at conventions and published in fanzines, and in the 1960s, the proliferation of Star Trek fanfic led to the creation of the "slash fic" sub-genre, which romantically pairs up characters in ways that don't always mesh with their canonical counterparts. The term refers to the mark placed between the names of those being paired up (e.g. Kirk/Spock), and is sometimes modified to "femslash" when the pairings are exclusively female. Thanks to their often-risqué content, slash fics are probably the most widely-known kind of fan fiction, especially after a certain Twilight fanfic titled "Masters of the Universe" was reworked by its author, E.L. James, into what we now know as Fifty Shades of Grey.

Early Star Trek fanzine, Spockanalia, published in 1968:

Star Trek fics also gave us the term "Mary Sue" (sometimes called Gary, Marty, or Larry Stu if referring to a male), named after a character in Paula Smith's 1973 story "A Trekkie's Tale", which satirized the unrealistically-perfect crew members some fan fiction writers created to interact with the canonical Star Trek crew. Lacking in character development, yet adored by everyone and incapable of doing anything wrong -- at least in the eyes of the characters around them -- Mary Sues can occur both in fanfic and "pro fiction", and there are even "Mary SueLitmus Tests" you can take to determine if an original character you created leans too close to Mary Sue territory (and let's not forget The Mary Sue, a website that celebrates "geek girl" culture whilst thumbing their noses at those who expect them to instead act like perfect little feminine darlings... in other words, to act like Mary Sues).
cover of the Legion Outpost #5 (1973). Photo source:
In the 70s, The Legion Outpost was a comic fanzine known for publishing LoSH fanfic.

These days, printed 'zines are few and far between, so both fandom and fanfic have taken to the Internet to spread their wares. One of the largest sites,, has forums for just about every facet of pop culture imaginable, all filled with tales that can range in length from quick 'drabbles' (100 words or less) to 'ficlets' (under 1,000 words) to multi-chapter epics that have been thoroughly researched and edited. And thanks to "plot bunnies" (ideas that just won't go away until you write them down) and "crackfic" (a story with and intentionally-ridiculous premise), the subject matter can be just as varied. Ever wonder what it'd be like if Agent Smith got dropped into Middle Earth? Go read "Return of the Matrix" by Reichenbach. If you're curious about Jonah Hex's opinion on fast food, there's Caretaker13's "Big Belly Buddies". And for a truly meta experience, check out "Pairings" by Aggie Deneys, which has poor Wally West discovering what fan fiction is (and how many slash fics feature him!). But it's not all fun and games: fanfic can sometimes be cathartic for both the author and the reader, as evidenced by DarkMark's bittersweet Peanuts tale "Everybody's Gotta Leave Sometime", as well as his 9-11 tribute "Let's Roll", where the spirit of Wolverine gives a frightened passenger a pep talk. The reasons for writing fan fiction are as numerous as the stories it produces. It can cover any era, any style, and any combination of characters (media crossovers have become so commonplace that now has algorithms in place to track them). The only limit is the writer's imagination.

excerpt of Teen Titans fanfic Barry Lyga has written. photo source:
Excerpt of Teen Titans fan fiction Barry Lyga has written

With all that in mind, us fine folks here at DC in the 80s will soon be adding a new feature to our site. Since we pattern ourselves after an old-school print 'zine, it seems natural to add some fan fiction to the mix (let's skip the slash fics, shall we?). We'll be culling through the various offerings out there and picking out the best of the best to share with you... and if any of you happen to have some DC-centric fan fiction you'd like to share with us, drop us a line so you can join in on a very old tradition.


All content in this article entry written by Susan Hillwig. If you want to attribute any of this work, please credit Susan Hillwig. For more of Susan, check out her One Fangirl's Opinion blog.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing post! I've been working on a spanish fanfiction site since 2006 too! Our site is I'm glad to see theres a lot of people like me who loves DC Characters all over the world