The Internet encourages fan fiction -- Devotees of movies and tv shows can write their own versions of their favorites

”I don’t know why in the world you think this is hot, Mulder,” Walter Skinner laughed mockingly. ”This is not hot, this is pathetic.” He wrapped his arms tighter around Fox Mulder, pulling him closer, and lightly nuzzled the back of his neck. from ”Harder Than It Looks,” J. Bast

No, that little scenario wasn’t on the Fox network last Sunday. It’s on the Web — and welcome to the world of ”fan fiction.” Hovering online, just out of sight of the mainstream, stories written by die-hard aficionados of TV shows, movies, even musicians, have grown into an ongoing online wonderland, one in which T.J. Hooker has coffee with Captain Kirk, Agents Mulder and Scully investigate strange happenings in Sunnydale, and Buffy and the gang solve a mystery with Scooby-Doo.

Is it illegal? Yes — but most TV networks ignore the fictional happenings of their characters as long as the writers credit the proper sources and don’t ask for money. For instance, while the studio may own the copyright on Buffy and her pals — and your story about her running for President is technically an infringement — in reality, the rule is hardly ever enforced. Is fan fiction immoral? Well…sometimes; the sub-subculture known as ”slash” specializes in graphic sexual encounters (usually gay, often written — as is most of fanfic — by women) between characters that are officially ”just friends.”

The majority of fan fiction is far less steamy, though. Most of the stories written about the musical group Hanson, for example, fall into the genre informally known as ”Mary Sue,” in which the author, a teenybopper, happens to meet the boys and starts a Disney-like innocent romance. Even stories at The Princess Diana Memorial Fiction Library have a romantic feel to them.

In a world in which entertainment conglomerates often treat audiences as afterthoughts, fan fiction is about regaining control. ”People love to fill in the blanks,” says Babylon 5 fan-fiction writer Pam Buck, ”or if a show goes in a direction they don’t approve of, they’ll write stories about what they wish would happen.” In some cases, fanfic keeps the soundstage lit well after the network has pulled the plug. How else do you explain healthy sites for moribund television shows like Quantum Leap and Highlander? And some groups, like the folks at the Forever Knight Fan Fiction page, keep writing stories in hopes that they’ll convince the network to resurrect the show.

How popular has fan fiction become? There are fanfic sites devoted to such hit shows as ER and The Nanny, and ones that continue the plots of movies like Titanic and Star Wars. There are even some Jane Austen sequels out there. But the royal family of the medium is Star Trek: The Definitive Guide to Star Trek Fan Fiction on the Web lists more than 100 fan-fiction websites based on Gene Roddenberry’s original series and its endless permutations. It’s not surprising that frustration over Trek‘s 1969 cancellation was the seed from which all fanfic ultimately grew: Whereas writers first explored bizarre plot twists in original stories printed in fanzines, the rise of the Internet allowed fans to post their efforts on bulletin boards and to a devoted Usenet group.