Fanfiction, also called fanfic, is fiction that has been written by people who are fans of a particular television series, movie or book. The text can be printed or written on paper, but modern examples are often published on the Internet. This material might violate copyright laws but, but copyright claims are rarely pursued by the original authors or creators unless the fanfic writer is attempting to profit from the material. Fans who choose to create their own works based on copyrighted material do so at their own risk.
It is believed that fan-written fiction has existed for several centuries — since published books of fiction first became widely available. Among the earliest examples might be the writings of girls in the late 1800s who penned their own endings to Louisa May Alcott's classic book, Little Women. For instance, some girls might have written an ending in which Beth survives and Jo marries Laurie. These writings likely were for personal consumption and probably were not shared with more than a few friends and family members.
Fanfiction emerged as a shared experience in the 1960s, with the advent of serial TV shows that gained large followings. One of the main shows that helped increase the popularity of this type of writing was Star Trek. At gatherings of the show's fans, people who had written their own stories based on the show began sharing them with other fans. These early examples of fanfic stories were often mimeographed, hand-stapled texts referred to as fanzines. More recent fanzines, also called zines, are often more professional-looking because they have been printed from computers, and they might include illustrations.
The rise of the Internet brought new growth to fanfiction, with fans discovering each other worldwide, forming websites, groups and mailing lists for the sharing of fan-written fiction as well as fan-created art. Virtually every fictional TV series that is of interest to a young audience has a fanfic community associated with it. Books that gain wide followings, such as J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series or Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, are known for their popularity among amateur authors who create new stories with the characters from those books.
Any material that uses fictional characters, places and other names from copyrighted works of art constitutes a violation of copyright laws. Many authors, producers and publishers who own copyrights will go to considerable lengths to protect their works, especially if they consider alternate uses of their material to be damaging in some way. Others, however, choose not to pursue claims against creators of fanfiction as long as they are not trying to profit from it. This is likely an appreciation of the fact that fanfiction can be a powerful form of free publicity as well as recognition that negative publicity could result from a legal attack on the most dedicated members of a work's fan base. Some copyright holders have even embraced fanfiction, holding contests to allow fans to submit their writings and sometimes publishing collections of these materials.
In most places, copyright protection expires after a certain number of years. After a work of art's copyright expires, the characters and places in it move into the public domain and can be used freely by others. Characters such as the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet have all moved into the public domain, so it is legally permissible for another to profit from their use. Many new works that use characters from the public domain have been very successful, possibly because many fans enjoy seeing familiar characters reworked into new stories or viewed from a new perspective.
One of the most startling forms of fan-created fiction is the erotic variety. For example, viewers who thought that two characters in a TV show or movie should have had a sexual relationship might express that point of view by writing a piece of erotic fiction. When these relationships are between two male characters or two female characters who are not homosexual in the original works, this type of fiction is often called slash. The name comes from the way that these writings might be labeled, with a slash between the names of the two characters involved. Some people consider slash to include only works that involve sexual relationships between two male characters.
The reaction of fans to other people's pieces of fanfiction is mixed. Some people do not like seeing characters who have become dear to them interpreted by others and behaving in ways that might not be consistent with their own concepts of those characters. Other fans enjoy reading alternate stories and find this form of fiction an entertaining pastime and a new way to indulge their interest in characters who have become important to them. People who want to read fanfic stories online are likely to find many examples by typing the term "fanfiction" along with the title of a book, TV show or movie into a search engine.