Fan Fiction: Education Through Entertainment (by Paige Burlingame)


Why is fan fiction popular, yet also subversive?  Is fan fiction all mindless drivel? Or is it something more?

Author’s Note:

This assignment has been very enlightening for me. I have always been aware that fan fiction is a thing that people do and enjoy. I even dabbled a little in terms of reading when I was in middle school, but I sort of instinctively kept quiet about it. I suppose I was worried that people would find it weird, although considering my borderline unhealthy obsession with the Harry Potter series, people probably assumed as much.

Lately I’ve heard a lot of people talking in hushed tones about fan fiction, seemingly scandalized about the whole thing, as if it were some new fad that would eventually pass. As I got more invested in my research, I was inundated with tiny factoids that felt like bombshells and left me in awe the more I thought about them. Shakespeare wrote fan fiction about one of his own works! Sherlock Holmes fan fiction has been written professionally by dozens of different writers for over a decade! The Star Trek fan base helped revive the franchise more than once through their fan fiction and other types of fan art! My mind was opened in a way that shed a completely new light on all of these facts I kind of already knew. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that there have been strides made within the education community toward using fan fiction as a teaching tool for grade school students in order to teach critical reading and writing skills.

This research process has radically altered the way I view fan fiction and I hope it does the same for you.

Part I – Research Collection

  • “Use Fan Fiction with Elementary Students”

Sprague, Debra. “Use Fan Fiction with Elementary Students.” Learning & Leading with

Technology. May 2012: 28+. Academic OneFile. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.

Summary: This article is about one teacher’s method of using fan fiction to help teach her elementary-aged students how to write fiction. This article is from “Learning & Leading with Technology,” a subscription magazine, and qualifies as a popular source.

This article is important because it addresses the use of fan fiction as a learning tool. The author of this article, Debra Sprague, talks about the dedicated website she created as a platform for her students and other elementary school students to post their fan fiction stories. Her use of fan fiction is very specific in its aim in that all of the fan fiction her students write is required to follow the canon. She is very clear that she uses fan fiction with her students because it is difficult for young writers to develop their own original fictional material. This article clearly presents the reasons why fan fiction is such an important and useful learning tool.

  • “The Fan Fiction Phenomena: What Faust, Halmet and Xena the Warrior Princess Have in Common”

Young, Cathy. “The Fan Fiction Phenomena: What Faust, Halmet and Xena the Warrior

Princess Have in Common.” N.p., Feb. 2007. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.

Summary: This article discusses the cultural merit of fan fiction. It also discusses copyright and fair use policies. This article is from “,” which qualifies it as a popular source.

This article addresses the issue of what constitutes copyright infringement and what qualifies as fair use. This article also calls attention to the fact that a lot of popular media tends to use fair use material or material that is too old to be copyrighted, whether directly or abstractly. (Ex. the Romeo and Juliet story has been told a million times in a million different contexts – the story is even older than Shakespeare’s version.)  This article eloquently presents many counter-arguments of the validity and usefulness of fan fiction and expertly pulls them apart.

  • “The 411 on Fan Fiction: Find Out What’s Really Behind the Underground Genre That’s Suddenly in the Spotlight”

Grieser, Jessica. “The 411 on Fan Fiction: Find Out What’s Really Behind the Underground

Genre That’s Suddenly in the Spotlight.” Writer’s Digest Oct. 2012: 8+. Academic

OneFile. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.

Summary: This article is important because it focuses heavily on why people write fan fiction. It is from “Writer’s Digest,” which qualifies it as a popular source.

This article focuses heavily on why people write fan fiction and why fan fiction means so much to some people. She addresses Fifty Shades of Grey, but moves beyond that and expands on what fan fiction is past the point of erotica. This article also points out that while the popular impression of fan fiction is that it is all written by amateur (read: crappy) writers, there are also accomplished and professional writers who also dabble in fan fiction. She even tells the reader how to participate in the fan fiction community, which is fairly unique for articles about this topic.

  • “Teen Literature and Fan Culture”

Brenner, Robin. “Teen Literature and Fan Culture.” Young Adult Library Services 11.4


33+.Academic OneFile. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.

Summary: This article focuses mainly on the fan culture surrounding the writers and readers of fan fiction. This article is from the “American Library Association’s Young Adult Library Services” newsletter, which qualifies it as a scholarly source.

This article sheds a different light on the subject than the previous articles in that it takes a step back and talks about more than simply what fan fiction is. This article talks about why fan fiction exists and why it continues to be very popular. It discusses teen fan culture, which is arguable at the heart of the fan fiction community, and how that fan culture creates a community for people who share interests. The unique thing about this type of fan culture is that because of the internet and fan fiction websites, you could be reading a story written by someone on the other side of the world and be able to interact with that writer.

  • “Using Fan Fiction to Teach Critical Reading and Writing Skills”

Kell, Tracey. “Using Fan Fiction to Teach Critical Reading and Writing Skills.” Teacher

Librarian 37.1 (2009): 32+. Academic OneFile. Web. 23 Nov. 2013.

Summary: This article offers a clear and thorough example of a fan fiction-based curriculum for middle school students. This article is from the “Teacher Librarian” journal, which qualifies it as a scholarly source.

This article includes a very thorough and complete curriculum design based around the use of fan fiction as a tool to teach students critical reading and writing skills. She includes examples of the student feedback she received as well as addressing some of the technical difficulties encountered in the process of implementing the curriculum. This article is particularly important because it includes an explanation of the term “participatory culture.” This term is very important when talking about fan fiction, because that is exactly what the fan fiction community is – a culture in which anyone and everyone can participate. Even people who don’t write fan fiction are able to offer praise or constructive criticism to the authors of the stories they read. This kind of participatory culture also creates a very inclusive and tight-knit community of writers and readers.


Part II: Public Writing




  1. Wendy Jordan

    Hi Paige,

    Great job on your culminating project and blog! Your writing was well-organized, your language was colorful (in a good way), and you successfully made your topic an attention-grabbing one. I must admit, before I read your piece I was largely a “fanfic” skeptic. I have a few friends that read it and I have teased them endlessly (all in good fun). Really, I just never gave the validity of it any thought. I was one of those people who felt it was an amateur rip-off of professional and popular works. I have been writing creatively since I was old enough…poems, screenplays, books…all in which I created my own characters/environments/events. I never knew there was an alternative medium. But had I heard of fanfic while I was growing up, I probably would have been more accepting of this form of writing and its associated “fandom”. I hadn’t even heard of it until about a year ago (and I’m almost 30)!
    All in all, your blog post really opened by eyes! I had NO idea that fanfic had any historical context; that is absolutely fascinating. I love all of your examples of this (ie, Shakespeare, Homer, Sherlock Holmes, Jane Eyre) and I can really appreciate fanfic on another level now. I also loved how you likened it to an amateur musician covering a popular artist’s song. We have all done that at one point or another. Take, for example, “Rockband” on Wii (or some other platform) wherein the player rocks out on the drums, guitar, etc, to popular songs that they had no part in actually creating; it would be quite a different effect to have to write your own songs to rock out to. Like you said, it’s a way for amateurs to hone their musical (or in the case of fanfic…creative writing) skills on their way to becoming professionals. Or, for those who aren’t interested in becoming professionals, it’s all just in good fun. Again, great job!


  2. pccalberto


    I love that you’re exploring fan fiction, and especially that you’re doing it so well!

    Your blog is fun to read, and I like that you start off with personal stories and background. It builds empathy with your readers, and thus makes it easier to see your point of view as you move on to explore fanfic more critically.

    I do think your title, “Fan Fiction: Practice for the Real Thing,” does not coincide with some of the examples you give. The essay demonstrates that some very “real” work–including some great literature–is itself a reworking of established stories: that is, it’s fan fiction… Yet it’s also “the real thing.”

    While some of your examples do serve to illustrate the fanfic often serves as a means by which writers can develop their skills and craftsmanship by serving as sort of writerly “training wheels,” I think the counterexamples you give serve to confuse the argument set out by the title’s premise.

    I feel that the piece sometimes apologizes for fan fiction, and that reads counter to the overall sense of the piece. I strongly feel that no apology is needed, and it seems to me that the essay overall wants to be proud of fan fiction… but is kind of sheepish about it.

    Still, overall, it’s a charming essay.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: