Fanfiction—otherwise known as fanfic, or just fic—is a curious creature. If you’ve been hitherto unaware, this guide to fanfic from Vulture probes the depths of this corner of the web, and is a great primer to get you started.

In broad terms, fanfic describes an extremely diverse collection of fan-generated writing that uses characters, settings and events inspired by other, original pop-cultural franchises or works of fiction. Fic can also focus on real people and events (dubbed Real Person Fic or RPF).

Fic takes many forms, and there are myriad genres and subgenres. It spans all kinds of different franchises and subjects (known as fandoms):

  • There’s fic dedicated to Harry Potter (a lot of it, actually), Calvin and Hobbes, Frozen and the pop music group One Direction
  • There’s fic based on games like Magic: The Gathering and Minecraft
  • People are writing fic about YouTube and Vine celebrities
  • There’s crossover fic that combines elements from different fictional universes, such as Sailor Moon characters appearing within the Star Wars universe and joining the Empire
  • Alternate Timeline (AT) fic places characters in a different time than the original work
  • Alternate Universe (AU) fic takes parts of stories, like characters, and reimagines them: What if Edward Cullen from Twilight is not a vampire, but is instead a Seattle-based billionaire. Sound familiar? That’s because Fifty Shades evolved from a series of AU Twilight fic called “Master of the Universe”

This is just a fraction of what’s out there.

Star Trek fans were among the pioneers of modern fanfic. Before the days of the web, fan-written stories—many of which focused on a Spock and Kirk relationship (or “ship”)—were compiled in ‘zines that were exchanged at conventions. With the dawn of the internet, communities of fic writers are now able to distribute and read content more easily, and connect with others.

Fic is big. It boasts a massive, dedicated community that’s churning out and consuming content daily. And it gives a number of lessons for those in the content business.

What can marketers and communicators learn from fanfiction?

1. The power of passion.

There are scores of people writing and contributing to this global community. They’re creating alternate endings, writing parallel timelines, inventing and inverting relationship dynamics. There’s something powerful about communities of people exchanging stories and not just reading, but also editing and providing feedback on one another’s work. And while fan-made content may not be as polished as the original work, that’s no reason to discount it.

In an age where many brands clamour for the most effortless of fan actions—likes, shares, retweets—it’s incredible to think about the investment that fic-writing fans have for their fandoms.

As a marketer, what are you doing to find, recognize and reward your most passionate fans? The ones who are creatively adapting your old advertisements or reimagining uses for your products? The ones who Vine while they unbox your product or dedicate hours to designing a 3D printed enclosure for it?

While these are the minority of people who are the most deeply invested in your brand, they’re spending their time and talents with you. Just because. Because they’re passionate. Because they‘re engaged. Because they care.

Many brands are chasing user-generated content, opting to become curators of what others are saying about them, rather than saying it themselves. UGC wouldn’t be a thing were it not for the types of people who go out of their way to write things like fic.

2. People love stories.

The prevalence and volume of fanfic supports something we know to be true: people love stories. People connect with narrative and grow invested in the characters, the setting, the texture of the writing.

In fanfic, that connection and investment manifests in a desire to extend the story beyond what the author originally envisioned. I get it. I can’t tell you the number of times that an author has created a universe or setting, or set of characters with such depth that I can’t help but feel disappointed after turning the last page.

I want more. I want to explore more of the back-story. I want to devour the lore and subtext. I want to know what became of that obscure character who showed up early on and then disappeared. J.K. Rowling recognized this love for the Harry Potter universe and created Pottermore to give people more of what they craved. (Incidentally, Pottermore has further fuelled works of Potter fic.)

Companies, brands and organizations have stories to tell. Remembering the power of the narrative helps bring brand stories to life. It just takes some creativity to find the right way to tell them.

3. Inspire people with your ideas, your product, your stories.

People write fic for a lot of different reasons; what unites them is that they’re engaged. Whether with the characters, the politics, the setting, the relationships or something else entirely, fic writers are inspired to spend their creative energies contributing to the expansion of someone else’s imaginative output.

When was the last time you consumed (or created) a brand story that captivated your imagination and made you ask “what if?”

How can you create something that inspires someone? What’s the idea, the insight or the story that drives people to take action?

4. Allow yourself to be inspired.

I find myself looking in unusual places for inspiration. And often I find it where I least expect it. When I expose myself to new ideas and communities, I find I’m best-equipped to find points of inspiration from them. Those Reddit and YouTube wormholes in which I invariably end up often lead me to learning new things and unearthing interesting tidbits, insights, discoveries and opinions that I file away for that next project, DIY endeavour, brainstorm, or late-night chat over a dram of whisky.

And while I may not end up curling up with the latest in One Direction fic, I know passion when I see it. And that’s worth taking note of.

Additional Reading:

http://www.vulture.com/2015/03/fanfiction-guide.html?mid=twitter_nymag

http://www.dailydot.com/geek/complete-guide-to-fanfiction/

http://www.theverge.com/2015/2/17/8051301/fanfic-explained-whats-tech-podcast-fan-fiction

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/aug/13/fan-fiction-fifty-shades-grey

http://www.translationdirectory.com/glossaries/glossary319.php

http://overmental.com/content/i-read-an-epic-39-chapter-magic-the-gathering-fanfic-and-it-was-incredible-8060

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/17/one-direction-fan-fiction-books-movie-anna-todd