I am teaching my students about narrative structure in my seventh grade Language Arts class, and they have begun writing short stories of their own. This week, I invited them to share the beginnings of their stories. Two of them could not wait to read theirs aloud, and I should have known why: Their obsession with The Hunger Games has been clear since day one, and they co-wrote a story in which Katniss Everdeen is the protagonist.

“Nooooooooo!” I thought. “Why didn’t I make a rule? I should have said: No fan fiction!”

It seemed like cheating, albeit unintentional. I was tempted to ask these girls, and any other student who had written fan fiction, to start over and use their imaginations this time to come up with something original. But as the girls began reading their story, all I could think was, “Wow. This is really good.”

Fan Fiction

Illustration by Kagan McLeod, “Watson is a Woman” | My Dear Miss Watson by bravehearttegan | Sherlock Holmes’s famed sidekick Watson is reimagined as a woman who struggles to be taken seriously by other investigators.

I think I’ve come around. If you think about it, it is very difficult to create — out of thin air — everything that is needed for a story: a compelling character, a world in which that character lives (setting), and the plot (what happens).  The beauty of fan fiction in a creative writing class is that it gives students a familiar character and setting to work with. Those are givens. They can then focus on plot, which is quite helpful when the whole point of the exercise is to implement what one has learned about narrative writing, and to write a story that has a clear beginning, middle and end. In fact, next year, if I teach this class again, I may actually recommend that students write fan fiction. I think that by doing so my two Katniss-obsessed students were able to focus more on the plot and the details that would help their characters and setting come alive.

The more I think about it, the more accepting I am of the fad. Was Homer, our first poet, cheating when he composed The Iliad and The Odyssey? Most scholars agree that the story of Helen and the Trojan War had been around for a long time before Homer created the rivalry between Achilleus and Agamemnon, and the tale of Odysseus’ subsequent journey home to Ithaca. We don’t know for sure that they were even written by the same person. It is possible that The Iliad was “fan fiction” based on an oral tradition and that The Odyssey was “fan fiction” based on The Iliad!

Not to mention, as the Wall Street Journal article “The Weird World of Fan Fiction” reports: “Several publishing stars got their start in the genre [of fan fiction]. Meg Cabot, the best-selling author of the ‘Princess Diaries’ series, started writing ‘Star Wars’ fan fiction when she was 11 years old. Young-adult fantasy author Cassandra Clare, whose books about teenage demon hunters have sold 12 million copies, wrote Harry Potter and ‘Lord of the Rings’ fan fiction before she broke into professional publishing. Novelist Naomi Novik, who writes a best-selling fantasy series about dragons that’s set during the Napoleonic Wars, started writing ‘Star Trek’ fan fiction when she was a college student at Brown in the 1990s.”

Who knows? Maybe my students’ fanaticism for The Hunger Games could be a stepping stone. They could be the publishing darlings of 2027! So, ladies, “cheat” away!


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