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Is Everything Fanfiction? Probably

One day my cousin came home from school to announce: "On the bus to school, I always ride next to a girl who is really quiet and usually writing in her journal. I finally got a look at what she is always writing and it's steamy Harry Potter fanfiction."

We all took a moment to laugh at this and tried to find out more details. But here's the thing, teens writing fanfiction is not that uncommon. And honestly, putting effort into writing, even if it's someone else's characters and setting, is still showing an interest in writing and thinking creatively, right? So why is there such a negative connotation with it?

This is because fanfiction is broken up into good and bad, just like TV shows or artwork. And there are different sites that are known for good or bad pieces. Sort of like ABC Family (or I guess it's Freeform now?) versus HBO.

However, most people just know of the poorly written fanfiction that used to be hosted on Quizilla or LiveJournal, and don't think about how fanfiction is actually prevalent in all forms of media. For instance someone might write a short story about Sherlock Holmes based in modern day London, which would be considered fanfiction, but what if an international company made it?

 The modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes from BBC America

The modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes from BBC America

The BBC show 'Sherlock' is just that, a present day version of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. Why isn't that considered fanfiction? It's definitely not canon (a piece of a story that's considered to be part of the original work), as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle didn't write the TV show's script. Does that make it fanfiction? Or since it is popular, does that make it something different?

Perhaps the term fanfiction can only be attributed to pieces of work that are currently copyrighted or if you don't own the rights? Such as 'A Very Potter Musical' that was produced a few years ago. That was considered fanfiction, even if it was well received by fans and the writer alike.

 Fan made poster for “A Very Potter Musical” from deviantart.com/zersen

Fan made poster for “A Very Potter Musical” from deviantart.com/zersen

And along with that, the recent Lord of the Rings movies aren't considered fanfiction, even if characters that never appeared in the book, appear in the movie, such as Legolas in the three Hobbit films. Even though that was clearly fanservice (writing parts of a story in to please fans/readers) no one calls the films out as being fanfiction, they just consider it to be an adaptation of the books (AKA the definition of fanfiction), even if JRR Tolkien didn't give the films his personal blessing. However, the Lord of the Rings films did buy the rights, and perhaps that is the line that constitutes what is fanfiction or not.

But if having the rights is all you need to not be considered fanfiction, then anything written about Alice's Adventures in Wonderland cannot be considered fanfiction as the story is now public domain, such as Once Upon a Time's spinoff: Wonderland, or the recent Tim Burton films on the same subject.

Which leads me to the question: can authors write fanfiction of their own work? Once Upon a Time is a Freeform show that focuses on the lives of many fairytale characters and how their lives intertwine, such as Elsa from Disney's Frozen. However, Elsa's story in Once Upon a Time is very different from the one told in Frozen, such as Elsa's mother having a sister with ice magic who they cast out of the land, which is never discussed in the original story. Is this story arch canon since it came from the same company (Disney)? Or is it considered fanfiction since the writer of Frozen did not write it themselves?

I personally like to believe that everything in Once Upon a Time is just Disney's giant crossover fanfiction, but since the line between fanfiction and canon is so gray it is hard to tell.

Do you have any ideas for what makes something fanfiction or not?

Until next time,

Caitlin