Fan fiction (otherwise known as fanfiction, fanfic, or simply fic) is the product of unauthorized writers taking characters and settings from television shows, movies, comics, or books and writing stories about them. In the 1970s fan fiction writers helped to keep Star Trek culture alive and well long after the show itself was cancelled; they collected stories about the adventures of Captain Kirk and his crew in mimeographed and stapled zines and handed them out at conventions. The topics of these stories ranged from simple episodic crusades like those seen on the show itself to heartfelt romances between any and all characters, including, infamously, Kirk and Spock.
Since the explosion of the internet, fan fiction audiences have become crowded places; name a show, book, personality, video game, or other form of pop culture and you can find fan fiction for it. Fanfiction.net, which archives fan fiction from multiple fandoms, has hundreds of categories with thousands upon thousands of stories. There are more than 87,000 stories about the boy wizard Harry Potter at fanfiction.net alone.
Fan fiction itself is generated primarily by women of all ages, sitting at home in front of computers tapping madly into keyboards to complete often novel-length stories about their favorite characters. They do not do it for the money, of which there is none to be gotten; they do not even do it for fame, since most fan fiction writers guard their real life identities very carefully. They do it because they love writing their stories, they love the characters that are not theirs, and they develop a commitment to the community they discover when they start to share this love with others.
While corporations are often uncomfortable and sometimes litigious over what they consider to be copyright infringement and misuse of intellectual property, fan fiction communities are possibly some of the richest learning environments online.
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