When you hear the words “fan fiction,” you might think of something like a 2,000-word wish fulfillment detailing Luke Skywalker’s happy marriage to Han Solo as they take care of an idyllic forest cottage in a galaxy far, far away. In your head, it’s probably riddled with grammatical errors, flat or flowery narration, and poorly written dialogue.
Although it’s true that fan fiction’s bad reputation comes from the fact that anyone can write it — which makes it prime territory for amateurs more interested in their fantasies than the actual art of writing — the stereotype often causes people to miss its real scope and definition.
Both Dictionary.com and the Oxford dictionary essentially say the same thing: fans writing their own stories about the characters from movies, TV series, etc. Merriam-Webster makes the distinction that the stories are “often” posted on the Internet, though M-W also observes that the first known usage of the term “fan fiction” was in 1944.
The point is that absurdity and poor quality are not inherently part of fan fiction. Fan fiction is very simple and broad — it’s somebody other than the original creator considering new angles or devising new plot lines for an existing story and its characters.
People have this weird tendency to look down their noses at fan fiction because of its reputation, but what about movie adaptations? They do all the same things that fan fiction does — playing with someone else’s story according to the whims and interpretations of the person with the pen.
This describes most popular entertainment nowadays. They just get to call themselves adaptations because they’re officially authorized. That’s right — the main (if not only) real difference between fan fiction and adaptation is a legal technicality.
I can hear it now: “Oh, adaptations are different because —”
Because why? Because adaptations give a different perspective, elaborate upon some plot point, back story, or subplot, or present something new altogether? Most fan fiction tries to do that, too. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy even got away with creating a whole new character (Rachel Dawes), a common aspect of fan fiction.
Because adaptations don’t focus on wish fulfillment to the extent that fan fiction does? How does that explain the fact that Rachel McAdams’ Irene Adler (in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films) was written as an independent Victorian-era divorcée capable of beating people up for an audience that increasingly demands diverse and strong women?
Because adaptations are well done and fan fiction is not? I suppose that’s why Suicide Squad was so great, isn’t it?
The trend of retelling old stories in different ways has been happening for centuries and will not end anytime soon. We should recognize the minor distinction between adaptations and fan fiction and start embracing the latter for its potential in the movie industry.
We’ve recently seen what it’s capable of producing for superheroes. Although the Marvel Cinematic Universe films have generally garnered favorable reviews from critics and audiences and retain many of the most vital storytelling elements from the comics, most of them take very liberal artistic license. Some examples include:
- Pepper Potts is with Tony Stark instead of Happy Hogan.
- The romance between Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner is also new.
- Thor was never a doctor named Donald Blake, nor was he ever unaware of his true identity.
- Tom Holland’s Spider-Man lives with a more realistically aged Aunt May.
- The beloved Phil Coulson never even existed before the movies.
- The Civil War storyline in the comics was centered around whether superheroes should have to register their identities, whereas Captain America: Civil War explored more general themes of control versus freedom.
The DC movies, though less enthusiastically received, have followed the same pattern. As noted previously, Nolan came up with Rachel Dawes as a love interest for Batman and Two-Face. Elsewhere, Lois Lane takes on some of the characteristics that had made Lana Lang important to Superman, and the Joker is depicted as feeling something like real affection for Harley Quinn.
Again, the scriptwriters are not the comic books’ creators. They embellished and rehashed the source material so that it was recognizable but, in the end, completely distinct.
They wrote fan fiction and got to call it adaptation.
The only thing separating adaptation screenwriters from the avatars posting little drabbles on the Internet is years of experience and diligence in honing their craft. Superhero scriptwriters are really just professional fan-fiction writers with copyright on their side.
Why do so many people feel reflexively repulsed by fan fiction, then? Perhaps it’s because we’ve been tricked into thinking that only the ideas of professionals are worth taking seriously.
The truth is that the fans will continue to fuel the demand for quality adaptations because there’s no force quite like a fanbase that never gets tired of looking at multiple ways to tell stories with characters and concepts they love. That is, they can’t get enough of great fan fiction.
Don’t be afraid to let the Movie Powers That Be know what you want to see. Maybe some people will get really lucky and see their fondest fan fiction dreams become realities by their own hands.
Considering the DC films’ lackluster reception lately (with the obvious exception of Wonder Woman), here’s a recommendation: Have somebody important check out the JL8 comic to see if anything can be done to bring it to the big screen. Now that is some fun fan fiction.
Ashley Morales lives in Spokane, Wash., which could use some reimagining.