Embracing Fanfiction

When talking books with a group of seniors before winter break, one of the girls said, “My friends don’t think that I’m a reader, but I actually read all the time! It’s Fanfiction. They don’t think that counts, but it totally does! I read hundreds of pages a week, actually.”

Apparently, I have been living under a rock.

O.k. so maybe not completely under a rock. I have heard tale of certain infamous Twilight Fanfiction that came in various shades of…poorly written mega-bestselling material. But the Fanfic this student was referring to, and that of which her group of friends began passionately extolling on, was not about that  business. It’s an entire world…a world made of fandoms. Have you seen sites like this?


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They LOVE IT. In our five minute conversation, I heard about story lines inspired by characters from books, television series, and video games. I heard that some of it is poorly written, some is gratuitous R rated material that they deem me too young and innocent to read :), but according to these girls, some of it is really, really good (and addictive). They’re reading. A lot.  And some of them are contributing their writing. I want to know more. Quite honestly, I want to know about what they’re reading, from comics to the Classics.  If I try their suggestions, I feel like they will be more open to trying mine.

So, what to do?

Acknowledge it.

Discuss it as a community. If this group of five is this into it, who else can contribute to the conversation?

Encourage them to create some of their own?

After reading this School Library Journal  Guest Post by Christopher Shamburg… When the Lit Hits the Fan in Teacher Education, I’ve decided to add a unit on Fanfiction this week in my senior English elective (I blogged about this class last year). However,  I think it’s something that we could all do as librarians. Perhaps an all school program, a collaboration with your English department, a fun activity for your book club, or an after school activity?

Per Shamburg’s recommendation, I’ve done a bit of research into the history of Fanfiction. I can’t wait to talk to my students about Shakespeare in particular. And then there’s Fanfiction of biblical proportions. “Paradise Lost” anyone? This could (and is) an entire course at universities. Lacking a degree in literature, I know that will touch on the proverbial tip of the iceberg, but I think that it will be a fun way to engage with texts in a new way.

I’m looking forward to hearing what influences my students have noticed in works that they have read. I read March by Geraldine Brooks years ago and liked it, yet I didn’t know the word “Fanfiction” then. I just thought, “Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, Little Women style”.


Think about these Fanfic writing prompts (offered again by Shamburg):

·      Alternate Perspective—the story is told from the point of view of another character. For example, what would the Cinderella story be like if the stepmother told it? (Or maybe the father from Little Women?)

·      Missing Scenes—scenes that are not in the original story, but would make sense in it.

·      Alternate Universe—a major character or event in a story is changed, and a “What If…” scenario ensues.

·      Alternate Realities—characters from one story enter the world of another story.

·      Sequels—the story that happens after the original story.

·      Prequels—the story before the original story.

·      Self Insert—the story is rewritten with an avatar (representation of the author). For example, what would a Harry Potter adventure be like if you were in the story?

(Shamburg, 2008, 2009)

I’m going to ask them to choose one of the above scenarios, to adopt their author’s tone and writing style as much as possible, and to add a Fanfic chapter to their story. I might even ask them to weave together all four books that they read throughout the semester for a final creative writing exercise. How fun would that be ?!

Are any of you members of a Fandom that you’d care to share?

Is anyone doing anything with Fanfiction at school? If so, I would love to hear about it. Please use the comment section to share your ideas with us all!

11 thoughts on “Embracing Fanfiction

  1. We have had a variation of this for years in Lower School, generally known as “Fractured Fairy Tales.” After students read the classic version, teachers share the many worldwide versions of Cinderella told by Shirley Climo or The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by John Sczieka or James Marshall’s hilarious nursery rhymes. The natural progression then is student-created tales. It is fun to learn we are part of Fanfiction!

    • Ahhh, I had forgotten about Fractured Fairytales! Thanks for the reminder, Allison! I’ll add this to my discussion notes.

  2. Thanks for this fantastic article. It’s great to see you working this into your course. I have no problem embracing fanfiction because it doesn’t just spark students’ imaginations, it engulfs them. Talk about high-interest material for reluctant readers, you can find stories about anything. NBA basketball? There’s fanfiction of it. X-Men/Justice League crossovers? Of course. Wicked (the stage play)? Yep. WWE wrestling? You betcha.

    Be careful when exploring. There’s a reason these students read so much fanfiction–it can take over your life. (I fell prey to X-Files/Doctor Who crossover fanfiction one summer and almost didn’t come back to work.)

    • “I fell prey to X-Files/Doctor Who crossover fanfiction one summer and almost didn’t come back to work.” <–Biggest LOL I've had at work in a while, thank you! So glad to know of these other genres of Fanfic. There is truly something for everyone.

  3. I agree that fanfiction isn’t always seen as reading or writing, yet is certainly can be both.

    We didn’t do this project this year because we have a group of students visiting from Japan, and we wanted to do a fun preparation activity relating to both global and digital citizenship, but here’s an activity we have done in World History in past years. It is part of learning to collaborate with peers using technology, and the follow up involves giving feedback to other groups and practicing good communication skills online.

    In groups of two or three, write a fanfiction-styled story of approximately two pages (500-750 words).
    Brainstorm: Think about what might happen if Justinian found Genghis Khan and Theodora talking in a coffee shop…or what if Mohammed showed up at the Battle of Tours…Choose one or more characters you’ve studied in World History and place them in a situation of your choosing.
    Be creative, but also think about characteristics these individuals displayed in real life. Keep the canon straight.
    Like any good story, your plot must include rising action, a climax, and a resolution.

    Obviously, part of being a good group member is completing your share of the work. It’s also important, however, to know how you work best. One of the benefits of technology is that it lets you work asynchronously; you and your partner(s) do not have to find a shared time you can both meet. If you’re an auditory learner though, this might not be the most effective way for you to work. You need to know your own learning style. Some options that would work for this assignment include working together in person or over the phone. You may also choose to collaborate online through GoogleDocs, Facebook, or a wiki.

    Once you have completed your story, you will share it online with your classmates by posting it to the class pbwiki site.

    • What a fun way to engage the kids in a historical discussion! I’ll share this with my colleagues, thanks Christina!

  4. I do discuss fanfiction in my graphic novels class and, as you said, the students are already very familiar with it! Writing fanfiction hits so many of our goals for 21st century learners, since students are connecting their own creative ideas to their analysis of existing literature, personally and socially engaging, and staying open to new ideas (through the reviews or comments sections). Copyright is a thornier issue, but consider Daniel Pink, respected author on business and innovation, who delivered a fascinating lecture on manga fanfiction (known as “dojinshi”) at the Japan Society. If you watch all the way toward the end of his talk, he makes some great arguments about how fanfiction is actually beneficial to the publishing industry and should be embraced more fully: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iit9YjaWuqI&list=PLF94898FE0F539DAE

    • This is just the type of video that I was looking for Susan, thank you! It’s so timely. Sequentially, I have just taught them copyright and fair use and have basically made it mandatory that they practice using CC, public domain, or take shots of their own when creating digital projects for class. Now I’m asking them to borrow characters, style, and storylines, to create something new. I want to address the elephant in the room and to bridge the gap re: why we can argue that this creative license is socially acceptable. This video is PERFECT. Thank you!

  5. Henry Jenkins of USC is the guru of all sorts of “participatory culture,” with fanfiction being a large part of it: http://henryjenkins.org/aboutmehtml. We don’t do anything with fanfiction at our school, but what a great idea! Back in the day I wrote many, many novels-worth of fanfiction myself, and read even more, so I have a true appreciation for both fanfiction (with all its multitudinous highs and lows), and those who read it, write it, and love it. It’s helped me connect with a lot of kids! For those less familiar with it, you can’t do better than to read Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Fangirl’–she knows what she’s writing about.

  6. My students are always shocked when they learn I know what fanfic is 🙂 I think a really important thing to note, as far as copyright and plagiarism are concerned, is that fanfic is NOT a commercially-driven community, and all practiced fanfic writers include large disclaimers at the top of their work about not being the owner/creator of the characters in question, and the work they’ve made being strictly for entertainment, not profit. It’s a system that works within a very specific context, but which would be illegal in another (i.e. if the fanfic author were trying to sell works derived entirely from others’ worlds and characters) which I think can help students understand some of the gray area around content creation, attribution, and distribution. I second Rowell’s Fangirl, it’s a gem! I’m always a teensy bit wary of getting too far into fanfic discussions with students though, because it really runs the gamut of intended audience/maturity ratings! I’d rather not know everything they’re reading!

  7. I took an online continuing ed class through Simmons two years ago on fanfiction. It looks like they offered it again this past summer. The instructor runs the No Flying No Tights site, which is a great review site for graphic novels, anime and manga. Cassandra Clare started as a successful fanfiction writer for Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Marissa Meyer also wrote Sailor Moon fanfic. The students love to hear that authors have started out or continue to write fanfic.



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