Over the past decade, the rise of online fan forums and social media debate has irrevocably changed onscreen storytelling. Films and television shows now have a far more symbiotic relationships with viewers — take the fan campaign #JusticeForBarb, which was made reality in Stranger Things season two, or else the cheeky Game of Thrones reference to the meme of Gendry rowing into the distance.
However, fan fiction — fiction written about an existing ‘canon’ work — is an entire community in itself, often centring on “shipped” relationships between two characters. Some shows, like US fantasy series Supernatural, include teasing references to the genre in general, other films and series pay homage to some popular fan fiction storylines.
From Sherlock to Good Omens, here are five examples where TV shows or films have appeared to reference fan fiction…
The magician Derren Brown, rubber masks, body swaps, thrilling bungee jumps… and one almost-kiss between two giggly former enemies, Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Jim Moriarty (Fleabag’s Andrew Scott).
Six years ago, there was only one question on the British public’s lips: How did Sherlock fake his own death? The various theories conceived by members of ‘The Empty Hearse’ club during season three’s opening episode seemed to serve as a nod to some of the more outlandish theories that had been knocking about online since The Reichenbach Fall episode, which aired two years prior.
The kiss, however, could have come straight out of the glut of ‘slash’ fan fiction (a subgenre featuring male/male relationships) published online prior to the third season, usually depicting Sherlock in a gay relationship with either Watson or Moriarty…
Asked about Sherlock fan fiction, showrunner Steven Moffat said: “There’s a tendency to disparage it. I don’t agree. Even the slash fiction, that’s a great way to learn to work. No one really does three-act structure, but just trying to put words that make somebody else turned on, that’s going to teach you more about writing than any writing college you can go to. It’s creative and exciting.
“I refuse to mock it,” he told Entertainment Weekly, “because I’m a man who writes Sherlock Holmes fan fiction for a living!”
2. Good Omens
In an interview with RadioTimes.com, Neil Gaiman spoke about the pressure of living up to fans’ expectations when he was adapting Good Omens (which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett) for television. He even “put a thing up on Tumblr” reassuring the many fans who had created “museums-full of Good Omens [fan fiction] stories”.
“Good Omens is about 110,000 words. I hate to think how many millions of words now of Crowley and Aziraphale slash fiction has been written by people who are not us,” he said.
However, it appears that those “millions of words” of slash fiction may have had some influence on Amazon’s Good Omens. While in the book there’s no explicit romantic relationship established between the demon and angel, in the TV series Gaiman seems to pay tribute to the fans who have long ‘shipped’ the unlikely celestial pairing…
Not all fan fiction remains on the page. Take the multiple unofficial fan-made Doctor Who spin-offs, including the film Downtime.
Downtime featured a character named Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, UNIT commander and daughter of the Brigadier. Later, an older woman with the same name, hair and background as Kate appeared in Chris Chibnall’s The Power of Three in 2012 and the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor.
“Let’s just say we came to an accommodation,” said Downtime producer Barnfather on his subsequent chats with the BBC. “I would never do anything that would hurt the programme or bring it into disrepute.”
You can’t really have a discussion about fan fiction without mentioning the Star Wars: The Last Jedi controversy.
After The Force Awakens first hit cinemas, fans of the Star Wars reboot began writing fan fiction centred around the relationship between antagonist Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) — or, to those who shipped the pairing, ‘Reylo’.
Two such stories, Interstellar Transmissions and Forms, focussed on the couple discovering that they had an intergalactic telepathic bond — a plot twist which ultimately came true in The Last Jedi, and which prompted some fans to allege that the film’s director and writers had stolen the idea from fan fiction sites.
While the film definitely doesn’t show any explicit romantic relationship between Kylo Ren and Rey, there are arguably moments of sexual tension, such as the shirtless-Kylo scene (above), and the tentative hand-touching.
Starring Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles as two brothers who hunt down monsters and demons, Supernatural is the longest-running American fantasy live-action series, and over the years has built up a devoted fan base.
The showrunners have some fun with that fan following in the meta episode The Monster at the End of this Book, in which the brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, come across a series of fantasy books called Supernatural, which seem to have been written about them, paralleling real-life events that they’ve lived through and only they know about.
Making the discovery after a comic-store owner mistakenly believes they’re cosplaying as…themselves, Sam and Dean begin researching the books, in the process discovering a wealth of fan fiction about their lives — including slash fiction.