Monday, March 16, 2009

Questions about fanfiction


“Now, Harry,” said Voldemort, “it is time to reveal the secret of my power!”

(Author’s Note : I don’t feel like writing what that is, so you can make up something)
From a Harry Potter fanfic


The first stories I ever wrote were fanfics, though this was back in the Middle East and it never occurred to me to put them up on the web. Later I moved to the States, discovered Star Trek and wrote a few stories set in the Trekiverse but featuring races and characters of my own – which made me realize that I might as well create my own universe to go along with them.

I kept reading fanfics, though, because there are some good ones out there. For instance, there’s a hilarious Harry Potter fic which begins when all the professors draw straws to decide who teaches the sex ed lesson (and Snape gets the shortest, much to his displeasure). On the other hand, I’ve been reading through some of Lee Goldberg’s posts on this topic and they’ve made me wonder a few things.

1. Authorial consent?

Some authors (e.g. Anne McCaffrey) have made it clear that they don’t want fanfiction based on their characters or their worlds. Some authors have made it clear that they have no problems with this. But for those authors who haven’t said anything (yet), can consent be assumed? Or should fanfic writers contact those authors for permission first?

I think that lot of writers would be reluctant to do so given that it’s not easy to get authors to respond to you if they’re extremely famous and/or busy. Plus, some characters or worlds aren’t owned by any one person, making it even more unlikely that the writers would get an answer.

What do you think, though? Should fanfic writers have to get the explicit consent of authors first?

2. What stories are permissible?

There’s a series of humorous Star Trek fics based on how many crew members from each series it would take to change a light bulb. There’s the equally amusing Very Secret Diaries. I’ve read fanfics that were so well-written and moving that they brought tears to my eyes.

I’ve also read – or backpedaled out of – stories that were utter rubbish. Or in worst case scenarios, illegal and/or creepy to boot (e.g. Real Person Fiction). I was a member of God Awful Fan Fiction before it closed down, and if you were too, one word: Celebrian. So there’s a lot of distinctly unpleasant fanfiction out there.

Should such stories be removed, or not written at all? The problem is that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure; fanfics, like fiction, can be subjective in value. I don’t buy the argument that RPF is an expression of one’s love and respect for a celebrity, but when it comes to a realistically depicted relationship between characters, this is more of a grey area for me.

What’s your take on this? Should certain types of stories (e.g. non-consensual, male pregnancy, etc) be off-limits?

3. Fanfic for your own work?

Finally, let’s turn it around. How would you feel if people wrote fics based on your work, or if there was a category for your work on www.fanfiction.net? Or, for that matter, on Adult Fanfiction and other such sites?

I’ve seen this question asked before, and many writers respond that they would be flattered, or at least would not mind. Though for some, this is copyright violation and not acceptable. Personally, I wouldn’t like this done with any of my major characters unless I could be sure the fanfic writer would keep them in character and wouldn’t do anything I wouldn’t do with them. Which is kind of a controlling requirement, so it might as well be a no.

How would you feel about fanfics for your work? Copyright violation, or an example of a fan showing their appreciation for your creation?

Thanks in advance for commenting!

31 comments:

writtenwyrdd said...

If they are not trying to make money off of my worldbuilding and if the person writing the fanfic has the usual disclaimer that the actual creator (in this case, me) has all legal rights to the world and characters, then I am fine with it.

writtenwyrdd said...

I should add I'm fine with it in theory and at this point in time. There is always the chance that something will cause a seachange in the opinions I hold.

Anonymous said...

My writing background, so to speak, is in this kind of area, so I'm pretty permissive about fanfiction generally. As Sturgeon's Law dictates, 90% of it is terrible, but there is some brilliant stuff out there - I love one author's HP fanfiction so much that I'm on tenterhooks waiting for her debut novel to come out. It's a harmless pastime that amuses huge numbers of people. Personally, I'd be flattered to have fanfiction written of my work (although I might not want to actually read it).

Love this blog, by the way. :)

Kami said...

I would be flattered if I knew someone had written fanfic based on my writing. If they followed fanfic rules, I wouldn't mind. But. I don't think fanfic writers ought to fool themselves as far as my regard for what they might produce: it doesn't mean I *approve*. That's one step beyond not minding or being flattered.

Put another way: I'm also flattered if someone who isn't my husband sends me roses. That doesn't mean I'll appreciate the gesture, especially if the context is creepy. Award ceremony, wow, cool! Delivered to my house with 'anonymous' note--not cool. Writing stories inspired by my world and characters, but using their own characters, cool! (I'd expect major characters to make cameo appearances, just 'cause where's the fun if they don't.) Even better--writing stories in my 'verse for an anthology where I have an editorial hand (or at least I'm consulted,) awesome! Deciding which characters would have sex with whom and turning Mary Sues into love interests or sending in Gary Stus to save the day or whatever ... I feel that's pretty intrusive and masturbatory. I know it'll always happen. Folks have pinups of characters (and some authors.) Fine. I'm not sure I think it's wise to post that stuff all over the web though, especially if the fanfic writers decide they want to make writing into a career. That would be very individual. Some celebrity women aren't embarrassed by their Playboy photo spreads from college. Others ...

I'm probably missing a lot of great stuff, but I don't read fanfic. Everyone reads for different reasons. I like, in addition to the entertainment, to visit someone's unique vision. If I want to read about Snape, I pick up Rowling's books. I hope that doesn't make me snobby!

The Unbreakable Child said...

Hello, Marian, just a drive by to let you know as soon as book is released and as soon as my cpies come in, I'll mail pronto-hugs

GunnerJ said...

All fanfiction should be purged. Suffer not the fanfic to live. In the name of the Emperor...

Donna said...

Considering I started writing by writing fanfiction, and still do, I support it. 90% of it is crap but I still support it.

1. For authors that don't condemn or condone fanfiction, it's assumed it's ok since they're not sicing lawyers on anyone. In the fanfiction world, if the author doesn't say don't do it, it can be done, otherwise they'd say not to do it. I don't think it should be a matter of an author not having to say so. In this day and age, everything needs to be spelled out and people should know that.

2. Like freedom of speech, fanfiction is all or nothing. You have to take the crap with the good stuff if you allow people to write derivative works from your writing. JK Rowling doesn't approve of slash or squick but it doesn't mean it doesn't get written and she hasn't expressly stated "do not write that." The option is not bar any of it from being written or just not read the stuff that'll rape the integrity of your characters.

3. I would love people to write fanfiction of my writing. I'd know I'd arrived then! I wouldn't want certain types of fanfiction being written but attempting to enforce that only certain kinds of fanfiction be written is futile. I just wouldn't read any of it (if for nothing more than legal reasons).

It comes down to a matter of respect. If an author doesn't want fanfiction written of their work, the fans should respect that. And they do. Usually. If they don't say either way, it's assumed they're ok with it. Like I said, in this day and age, if you don't want something done, you need to say it and not be passive about it. It's just how it's come to work.

In terms of copyright infringement, I don't know one fanfiction writer that doesn't put a legal disclaimer at the beginning of their stories attributing copyright to the original owner. I also don't know any fanfiction writer that's attempting to make a profit from their writing. It's a means for the fans to get closer to the characters they love. I don't see anything wrong with that so long as they don't impede on the legal right of the author in terms of monetary compensation. Fanfiction is never detrimental to the author. Ever. Even the shit that's written drives traffic to the original work, thus producing more money for the author. That's bad?

garridon said...

It seems like I come from two different points of view on the issues of fan fiction. For many years, I was involved in fandom, and I liked reading most of the stories. I even did try a few stories, but because I had been writing my own characters well before that, it never did much for me.

After people switched to Internet zines, I noticed a trend of a lot of sloppiness. People seemed to be rushing to get the material up do they could get a quick fix of praise (meanwhile, I'm reading one of those and thinking, "There are twenty typos on page one." I remember one writer who said she wanted to be a professional writer. She started her own fan fiction Web site and got sucked into the quick fix of praise. That was in 1997. I checked on the site recently. It's still there. It's still active. She hasn't done anything else other than collect and write fan fiction.

I finally started to veer away from reading fan fiction ... for a combination of two reasons. One is that I got good enough as a writer that I couldn't put up with the really bad stories any more--and most of them were really bad. But there were also two fans who seemed to devote their lives to OWNING the characters. One of their stories spent 70 pages describing medical procedures done to the characters--in great detail; another had a pretty sadistic torture scene (all I ever needed to say to the nice fans was "the torture story." Everyone would stop and shudder). They also wrote a story, widely controversial as being X-rated for being basically a romance-novel sex scene. Their reasons for doing a sex scene? "Well, we know they're doing it, so we might as well write about it." Worse: They were giving this stuff to the actor who played the character this was being done to!

What finally got me was that everyone kept feeding on each other. They'd see a story that was over the top or one that was poorly written and gush about how good it was. And I'm looking at what they're doing and what's in print, and started to think that it was a good idea to avoid any bad habits. So I stopped reading them.

I think I wouldn't mind if things were like the way they were when fan fiction was a print zine. There, it took more effort to write the stories, and there was time between writing it and publication where normalcy could rule.

Now, I think the Internet, along with the desire for praise, brings out the worst in the stories and people. I certainly don't want anyone writing stories about my characters like the ones I described above.

Marian said...

Thanks for the responses!

I must admit, I was feeling a little guilty about this issue. For the past couple of weeks I've been burned out on the WIP. I needed a break, but when I don't write I worry that I'll go rusty. And yet I didn't feel enthusiastic enough about the WIP to make a go of that.

Then I started writing a fanfic (for the first time in ten years). And that was not just easy but fun. I got over two thousand words done today and felt great.

But then I read all the objections published authors have about fanfiction, and it just bothered me. So I'm glad to see things from another angle, which is what people here have offered me.

I'm not writing in a fandom whose creator has disallowed fanfics. I'm not writing sex scenes of any kind. I'm staying true to the characters, and once I've finished this fic, I think I'll feel up to tackling the WIP again.

Definitely made me feel better.

Marian said...

Hi anonymous,

Glad you like the blog. And thanks for reminding me that writing fanfiction doesn't mean you can't write original fiction too.

Marian said...

Hey Kimmi,

Thanks for letting me know. I'm looking forward to reading and enjoying and reviewing the book. :)

ralfast said...

Coming from the Pencil & Paper RPG world, any franchise that has a RPG out is creating a defacto market for fanfics (that is what GM created adventures are if you think about them).

I mean if fanfics are made of one of your products you know you reached a certain level of fan based Nirvana. On the other hand I would hate for my characters to be twisted in ways beyond their limits, like changing their sexuality. That is were I would draw the line. Oh and of course profit making off my work.

I see fanfics the same way I listen to cover bands. Yes, they are fun in on themselves, but few of them are as good as the original article. And those which are (or better) should start writing their own material and look for a contract with a label. Of course a good fanfic writer could score a contract as one of the many writers supporting extended media franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek, D&D etc.

Leon Basin said...

Hey, fellow writer! How are you doing today? Hope all is well.

Leon Basin said...

Hey, how are you doing? You have an awesome blog.

gypsyscarlett said...

Hey Marian,

I'd be extremely flattered, and feel quite strange about it at the same time.

I'd give permission as long as they weren't characters I planned to continue using. If it was a series, I'd want them to wait until it ended. After that, I'd give them my blessing as long as they clearly understood that nothing they wrote was "cannon".

btw, I awarded you the Proximidade Award. :)

Marian said...

Hi Donna,

Like I said, in this day and age, if you don't want something done, you need to say it and not be passive about it.

Good point. With the story I finished yesterday, I wouldn't know where to start in trying to obtain permission, given that the characters seem to be owned by two different corporations rather than by an individual.

On the other hand, judging by the number of stories in this fandom on fanfiction.net, I'm guessing no one has had too much of a problem with it.

Like freedom of speech, fanfiction is all or nothing. You have to take the crap with the good stuff if you allow people to write derivative works from your writing.

In the fandoms I enjoy, I've read some stories that were so good I wished they'd been filmed or published. There was plenty of crap stuff too, of course. But it just occurred to me that the great stories wouldn't have existed (or wouldn't been posted) if everything had been disallowed.

That's something for me to think about.

Thanks for your detailed comment. :)

Marian said...

Hey Kami,

You mention "fanfic rules" - did you have any rules in mind except for the disclaimer that the fanfic writer doesn't own the world or the characters?

And not reading fanfic doesn't make you at all snobby. As you said, we all have different reasons for reading.

One reason I read fanfics is to find out about some minor character who was never given much space in canon. It's funny how one person's obscure background character can be another's personal favorite.

Marian said...

Hey garridon,

Ick. The torture scene didn't surprise me all that much because similar works were mentioned on GAFF, but giving material to the actor crossed a line. And I hear you about the stories that were poorly written.

By the way, I realized that if I hadn't read certain (well-written) fanfics, I wouldn't have become interested in the source material and looked it up. So here's an example where fanfics actually gained the original material a new fan.

garridon said...

I originally got involved in reading fan fiction during the 1970s--when the the fans were trying to write the best stories they could. I'd see wonderfully written stories that were so good they were published in a sanctioned anthology for the series (Star Trek did this at one point). There were also some writers who used fan fiction as a way to learn writing skills and then was eventually able to launch a professional writing career in the science fiction genre. Somewhere along the line, that changed in fandom.

By the way, the actor never read the stories. When the ladies gave it to him at conventions, after they left, he would pass it off to his tenders or leave it in the hotel room for the maid.

Madison said...

If someone loved my story enough to write fanfiction, I would be honored. In order to keep my writing skills sharp, I write fanfiction. Never for publication...about the time it's written it's erased off my computer screen.

Of course, I want to own all legal rights to my work. Would I want people to make money off of the fanfiction they wrote on my work....that's iffy. I would like the author to get in touch with me and discuss the matter. But I would want to read any fanfiction anyone wrote of my characters and world. I read a lot of Star Trek books and I can't help but wonder how Gene Roddenberry must have felt knowing that there were such huge fans of his creation that they were writing books about his characters. That's fanfiction in the extreme. I have plans to write my very own Star Trek book one day. :)

Fanfiction can be a tricky issue and I really don't think too much about it. I have read some fanfiction that was amazing and even when the writing is crap, something always comes through in fanfiction....the author's love of these already created characters and worlds. If someone loved my work enough to write with my characters, then that's extra proof to me that I've done what I set out to do...write an enjoyable tale with memorable characters, a story where the reader can just allow themselves to be swept away. If I can do that then, publication or not, I have succeeded. :)

Marian said...

Hi ralfast,

Thanks very much for your comment, because it didn't occur to me until now that GM-created adventures were a type of fanfic.

And that's kind of ironic, because when my friend Jordan said he wa thinking about basing a campaign on one of my worlds, I was delighted. I felt the same when he sent me GURPS stats for my races. It was really flattering.

I still don't think I want fanfics written about my work, but I can see how other writers would be fine with this.

Marian said...

Never for publication...about the time it's written it's erased off my computer screen.

Madison, do you mean you permanently delete your stories?

I don't think I could do that. I'm not sure yet whether I want to put my little fanfic up on the web, but I couldn't delete it either.

I take your point about having succeeded in creating a memorable world and characters, though. Especially one which inspires creativity in others. :)

Madison said...

Well, whenever I write fanfiction, it's a combination of stories. For example, I will write with Star Trek characters in a Lord of the Rings setting. I even wrote part of a story that blended characters from Naruto with my own. No, I do not keep my fanfiction stuff. If I write a good sentence or scene (that wasn't part of the already created and published stuff), then I will stash that away for later use. :)

For me, fanfiction is just training, a way to keep in shape. I do not focus a lot on it...my longest piece was only about twenty pages and most times they are under ten. When I write them, they are so much more fun to write than to read. Whenever I read them, most times I'm like "Ugh!" and erase it. Besides, I don't see the point in clogging up my hard drive with fanfiction that will never get published. I have too many of my own ideas for that! :D

Kami said...

Kami's Preferred Rules (only the first one is crucial and as far as I know, not being very familiar with fanfic except indirectly through my daughter, the only one everyone insists on being a hard rule):
!!Always have a statement that the world and the original author's characters are not the fanfic author's own (in case it isn't obvious,)(a link to the original author/work would be a nice gesture,)

That people make a good effort to have the original author's characters stay in character,

Not defy the laws of canon (at least not overtly) and avoid inserting ridiculously powerful or otherwise unbalancing characters that don't fit in the world,
Use the rating systems (G, PG, R, etc.) especially where forums encourage them so folks can avoid stuff they don't want to read,

And (this is my strong preference but I know lots of people ignore it) keep the rating consistent with the work. Harry Potter is PG-13. I think it's inappropriate, not to mention in bad taste, to make an R or X rated Harry Potter story.

Having said all that, I think that although an author can request that people don't write fanfic, the author has no real right to restrict it as long as the fanfic writers aren't making money off of it. I think of fanfic as a gray area between plagiarism (where there is a clear case for a lawsuit) and spoofing/comedy (where the comedian can get paid for making fun of someone's work.) It's all in good fun and I don't want to start making declarations that restrict people's freedoms. Play away, by all means.

As far as fanfic helping promote the original author, I doubt that's the case. The author is highly likely to already be famous, and if not, I doubt someone's fanfic of an obscure work would lead a significant audience to the original.

One thing that troubles me about the state of fanfic today is that it rewards (as other folks have noted, in different ways) the notion that effort deserves recognition. I was taught (maybe wrongly) that achievement deserves recognition. Effort deserves encouragement, but not recognition. Everywhere I look, though, fanfic and fiction sites and critique sites focus on effort rather than achievement, and big tears are shed over 'mean' editors and agents who don't value fanfic or don't value someone's attempt at original fiction.

But that's a whole 'nother can o' worms, I guess ...

Marian said...

This is one reason I love having a blog. I learn a lot from the people who comment.

Kami, you make a good point about effort alone not being deserving of recognition. If someone doesn't know how to tell a story, they can put a great deal of effort into their work and it still won't be of a publishable standard.

But they can still receive praise (and quick praise, as garridon mentions) on sites like fanfiction.net. Which is not a bad thing if that's what you want and you know the difference between it and professional recognition.

colbymarshall said...

Hm...it's murky water. I can see where it's great and lots of fun...I can see why some authors have a problem with it, too. Tough call for me.

Marian said...

That's how I felt too, Colby - with an additional dollop of guilt because I just finished a fanfic and yet didn't want anyone writing fanfics about my work.

I'm rethinking that position, though. As far as I can see, fanfics don't hurt the original author, especially if he/she doesn't read them. So there's not much of a rational basis for my objection.

And if writing fanfics brings people enjoyment, it seems unfair to actively stop that, especially if I've written fanfics myself and liked it.

Barbara Martin said...

I have not read much fanfiction, but would be concerned over copyright issues.

Marian said...

Hey Barbara,

Speaking of fanfic writers and copyright issues, there's a press release about a Twilight fan who has apparently printed up an "unofficial sequel" for distribution.

I have to read more about this over the weekend.

Kami said...

Here's more on that:

http://www.buzznet.com/musicnews/russet-noon-tribute-twilight-copyright-j3905001/

Press releases and revisionist history are coming into rapid play. Here's someone who's tracking:
http://www.journalfen.net/community/fandom_wank/1201887.html?thread=195506399

There's always a chance of people getting the idea that fanfic is publishable if they listen to the rah rah rah fanfic crowd while on drugs, I guess. From what I can tell, very few fanfic writers support this, hence the drugs part--I think the fanfic community is largely blameless and this person is really going out on a limb. She may even damage the fanfic community, should authors suddenly decide to pull the plug on the whole concept because of this. I think it unlikely (and probably not supportable) but there's already considerable anger brewing out there.

As stunning (or not!) as a work of fanfic might be, this is clearly unfair to the original author. Go get 'em, Stephanie Meyer! I don't even like Twilight, but I'm appalled by this and will defend any action Ms. Meyer chooses to take, as long as Geneva Convention rules are applied. (fanged smiley face)

Writers who haven't made millions are vulnerable, but thankfully they're less likely to attract fanfic abuse. I hope!

Marian said...

OK, I'm finally brave enough to provide a link to my fanfiction profile.