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50 Shades of Education: Why Fan Fiction Should Be Taught in the Classroom

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The clock strikes midnight and Cinderella gets killed by the Prince. Dorothy and Toto never make it back to Kansas in “Wizard of Oz.” Snow White finds out that the seven dwarfs are actually her children in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

These wacky endings of well-known plots provide an interesting twist to an otherwise classic story. Fan fiction writing is the retelling of stories based on novels, television shows, movies, and other storytelling mediums. These stories are read online by millions and are slowly breaking into mainstream media. Some have been made into books and even films. But the question is… Is this a real form of literature?

Traditional literary snobs may laugh, but writing fan fiction is empowering. Back in 2008, I used to write fan fiction for the book series “The Clique.” Although my writing was quite amateur, I gained confidence in a fun, no pressure way. Now, I use the skills I gained from writing fan fiction and apply it to my journalism classes in college. Fan fiction writing was a short-lived literary pursuit of mine, but it made me realize that fan fiction writers are the new role models for young writers. Educators should implement fan fiction into their coursework.

Some fan fiction writers have gained massive followings for their work. E.L. James, best-selling author of erotica novel “Fifty Shades of Grey,” started out as a fan fiction writer. “Fifty Shades of Grey” was initially a “Twilight” fan fiction and now the book has sold over 3 million copies globally, and the film version made over $85 million at the box office opening weekend.

“What was once known as a poor profession is now making millions,” said Anne Jamison, Associate Professor of English at the University of Utah and Author of “Fic: Why Fan Fiction is Taking Over the World.” “It’s incredible how you can turn your life around doing something that was merely a hobby at one moment. These media companies know that this is where the money is flowing. We have the Internet to thank for that.” Jamison was previously a visiting professor at Cornell University teaching fan fiction to English majors.

Fan fiction writing does a great job of allowing writers to create new plots, new characters and unique character relationships. Young writers are more comfortable with being creative with content you are already familiar with, therefore it’s a great base for creative writing.  Most English classes use classic literature to teach the conventions of writing, but the introduction of fan fiction into the curriculum will encourage young writers to produce creative new content. It’s this new content that’s going to define how we teach English in the future.

“Fan fiction really taught me how to write, to be honest. Writing fan fiction helps you experiment and see what the capabilities of characters are. There is so much character development, more so than regular novels sometimes,” said Liz Whittman, a third-year creative writing major at SUNY New Paltz and frequent fan fiction writer.

Fan fiction writers come from a community ranging from stay-at-home moms to sleep-deprived college students. Regardless, young writers can come to this diverse community to receive honest reviews about the content they post online. It prepares writers for the real literary world because, let’s be honest, people can be ruthless. But, it only makes you a better writer. “There is no one that’s going to be more honest with you than strangers on the internet,” said Whittman.

Within fan fiction, there are many sub-genres readers can explore. One that entices readers the most is slash fiction. It focuses on the sexual relationship of two fictional characters of the same sex. LGBTQ advocacy shines through fan fiction within this real world where homophobia is prevalent.  According to hrc.org, about three quarters of LGBTQ youth say they are more honest about themselves online than in the real world. The real world is big, but the online world is even bigger when it comes to social advocacy. Through fan fiction, young writers can provide a voice for those people who cannot be heard. It can completely change the conversation.

“They get to represent themselves and others, and you’re basically shouting to the world that ‘you’re not alone in your struggles,’” said Gina Cruz, a second-year creative writing major at SUNY New Paltz and frequent fan fiction writer.

Of course, there are skeptics in the fan fiction world that don’t agree that fan fiction should be taught in the classroom. The fan fiction community members are feeling violated that academics are invading their space and critiquing their work without permission. Fan fiction writing is not suppose to be taken seriously. By analyzing every aspect of the community, young writers are nervous to join a community that is now under a microscope.

“A lot of fan fiction writers put their work out there for fun. It’s lighthearted and they just want positive feedback. Who are these academic people to tell them that what they are doing is wrong?” said Elizabeth Minkel, Fan Culture Columnist for The Statesman.

Fan fiction writing has had a profound impact on me over the years. Educators need to realize that fan fiction writing causes more good than bad. As a young person in the 21st century, we are shielded from criticism and issues in the world. Nothing is ever really traditional, but young people don’t realize this fact. Fan fiction writing is an introduction to critical thinking and awareness of the world. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather learn that through fan fiction than a bland textbook.

photo credit: hurry up, we're dreaming! via photopin(license)


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