Loved by fans, created by fans.
Can you imagine the “Twilight” series without its hardcore fans — respectively Team Edward and Team Jacob?
Or the “Hunger Games” without Team Peeta and Team Gale?
What if we never came to know the glory that is Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes because the “Sherlock” reboot had simply never happened?
And without “Twilight,” there would be no “Fifty Shades of Grey” — no thousands of readers enjoying the racy exploits of Christian and Ana on the comfort of their Kindles.
Fanfiction’s influence is seen everywhere: in today’s books, movies, theater and video games. Some suggest that content driven by fans is, in many ways, the future of content itself.
Though fanfiction — where a fan of a film, book or TV series gets inspired to create a masterpiece — gets a bad rap in popular culture, the practice has vibrant history.
In fact, according to Cailey Hall, a Ph.D. student in English Literature at the University of California, fanfiction goes back as far as the Bible, in apocryphal stories about the adventures of Adam and Eve.
“There were also various readers upset with the ending of Samuel Richardson’s 1748 novel “Clarissa,” who set out to rewrite it in a “happier” way (ie: she doesn’t die and marries her rapist!),” Hall said.
Professor Corin Throsby, a researcher and lecturer at Cambridge University, wrote about how Lord Byron would receive poems written by fans offering alternative endings.
Even Sherlock Holmes was not immune. The detective’s fans wrote letters in Holmes’ voice claiming that Watson was misrepresenting their adventures.
Though it’s obvious that fanfiction comes from a place of passion, it’s more than just Harry Potter and Star Trek fans “shipping” sexy innuendos between Harry and Malfoy or Kirk and Spock.
Given the enormous success of E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which was inspired by James’ foray into “Twilight” fanfiction, fanfic has had a major influence on mainstream culture.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, film rights to the book sold for $5 million. The site fanfiction.net was the first home to fanfic writers, followed by Archive of Our Own.
But the birth of Tumblr changed everything. Fanfiction was no longer a hobby or habit to keep secret. Adding socialization to the mix, Tumblr allowed fans to revel together in the reimagining of their favorite TV shows, books and movies.
Tumblr’s slick and easy-to-use interface made it a snap to share fan-inspired work — whether it be fan art, memes, videos or photos.
Tumblr took the passion of fans and made it instantly shareable and, in some cases, viral.
Amazon’s Kindle Worlds has jumped on the opportunity to monetize a vibrant online community of fanfiction writers, who can search for different “worlds” based on their favorite shows, books and films, including “The Vampire Diaries,” “Veronica Mars,” “Twin Peaks,” “Pretty Little Liars” and even the work of Kurt Vonnegut.
Writers can register and upload their original fanfiction and then shop for stories written by others. One story costs about $2.
The venture has been controversial, mostly for reasons of copyright infringement.
Others argue the percentage split that Amazon takes is unfair, since it isn’t doing the regular work of a typical publishing house, in terms of production and publicity.
While the success of Kindle Worlds seems tenuous, Wattpad, a Toronto-based website where readers and writers can share books for free, is doing very well.
According to BetaKit, Wattpad has 45 million registered users and the site reported over 100 million stories shared last year. The site boasts an entire section dedicated to fanfiction.
“Fanfiction is one of our fastest growing categories with more than 14 million uploads of original and engaging content shared last year,” said Ashleigh Gardner, head of content and publishing at Wattpad. The site is open to any fans and writers — aspiring or professional.
“Anyone can share their writing directly with millions of readers around the world,” Gardner said.
Skeptics have wondered if the connection between fans and creators could be bridged digitally. Disney Infinity took things to a new interactive level with its world-building video game that features Disney and Marvel characters.
Syfy followed suit with Defiance, a television game that is also a video game. Both ventures bridge the gap between professional storytellers and fans, who get to create stories of their own online.
In many ways, these virtual, interactive worlds are reminiscent of the old-school “choose your own adventure story,” where the consumer (or reader) holds the power to alter the fate of the characters in the story.
The passion for characters and worlds that inspired the genre of fanfiction is now supported by socialization tools and the connectivity of the digital space — and the possibilities seem endless.