Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fanfiction


There's been some discussion on the Internet about Diana Gabaldon's disapproval of fanfic. I read about this first on the Absolute Write forums and then on Maria Zannini's blog.

The debate is an old one. I didn't really like the idea of fanfics until last year, when I was burned out from a slew of rejection letters. Suddenly I wanted to write a story that wouldn't be rejected.

So I wrote some fanfics. I enjoyed it, and it revitalized my interest in writing. Since there was no pressure to publish my work, I could experiment with different styles. After a few months, I resubmitted my manuscript and got an acceptance letter.

As a result, here's my take on fanfiction.

Objections to fanfic : what I agree with

1. Lawsuit potential

In 1992, a fan of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels claimed that the latest Darkover book stole an idea that she had sent to a fanzine Bradley ran. Because of the legal complications that resulted, published writers are warned not to read fanfics.

I think this is a case of a few bad apples spoiling it for the rest of the barrel, but it's also something published writers have good reason to be concerned about.

2. Copyright infringement

Using someone else's characters without permission is copyright infringement.

It makes me wonder, though. If I were to take characters that are in the public domain, such as Jane Austen's, and publish a novel about them, why would that be more acceptable than my writing a fanfic? Surely I don't have permission from Jane Austen to discuss her characters' love lives or to make said characters vampire slayers.

It seems to me like a moral grey area, though I'm willing to be corrected on this.

Also, there's copyright infringement which robs the writer (such as piracy, which I'm completely against). I don't think fanfics do this. Instead, when they're good, they can encourage and maintain interest in the original material.

Objections to fanfic : what I don't agree with

1. "Why not make up your own worlds?"

This is like saying to someone who likes singing karaoke, "Why not make up your own songs and music?" It's missing the point. Sometimes the fun is in telling a story set in that particular world, with those particular characters.

If I wanted to have an adventure set in a world of Gothic horror, I'd play Ravenloft. If I wanted to write a story about a battle between giant robots who turn into vehicles, I'd write Transformers fanfics (which, incidentally, I do). If I wanted to be published - and it's by no means a given that everyone who writes fanfics wants this or should want it - I would come up with my own worlds.

Which I also do.

2. "Most fanfics are poorly written."

Can't argue with that, though a lot of manuscripts in the slush pile are also poorly written. I've read fanfics that were beautifully crafted, published novels that weren't, and vice versa.

Besides, there are sites like Fictionpress, where original work can be posted to the Internet. If the quality of fanfiction is an argument against it, surely the quality of original work should be criticized too.

3. "It's disrespectful to the source material."

That depends on the fanfic, IMO. I've read some that were horrible, some which left me indifferent, and some which I loved. I think it's overly emotive to say that all fanfic "tramples" on the original work.

But personally, I would always respect the writer's wishes regarding the world. There are a few Song of Ice and Fire fics on the web. I wouldn't even look at those, because George R. R. Martin doesn't approve of fanfics regarding his work.

So if I ever reach the point where other people want to write fanfics about my work, I'd be fine with it, as long as they weren't making money from such fanfics. I would never read them. But I'd hope other people did.

What are your thoughts on fanfiction?

10 comments:

Neutral Fire said...

I love fanfiction, I write fanfiction, and also write original work, and one of my small dreams is that if I ever become a published author to write a story that crosses over my own world with another and put it on the internet anonymously. That'd be so cool.

Maria Zannini said...

I have yet to come across any world I love so much that I'd be willing to make up new stories for it. And my TBR pile is enormous. So that takes care of both reading or writing it.

As you mentioned too, it's the few bad apples that ruin it for others. I'm willing to bet it wouldn't even be an issue if everyone played nice, but there's always someone itching to cross the line.

Excellent report, Marian!

Linda Adams said...

I was involved in fandom for many, many years and did read fan fiction. I also wrote some, but not a whole lot--I found it more interesting to write about my characters, not someone else's. I eventually stopped reading them because the stories got pretty bad (this particular fandom did not draw a lot of new fans, so the stories were written by the regulars. Over time, the writing declined).

My objections to it:

It's addictive. I watched a writer who wanted to be professionally published get addicted to the feedback. She was dashing stories off so fast that they would have 50 typos per page. She started out as a fairly good writer, and isn't one now. And, twelve years later, she's still posting stories and hasn't done anything for professional publication.

It also builds bad habits, writing wise. Not a problem if the writer doesn't want to go anywhere, but if they want to be professionally published, the habits would need to be unlearned. The best example I can give of this is two fans who wrote a reunion script for the series and tried pitching it to the studio in person. Utterly no research in how to do this. The script was for a science fiction action adventure TV series. What the script was about: The main characters having relationships, getting married, and having kids. No action, no science fiction, no monsters, no adventure. They never got their heads out of the fan fiction to do a story the studio might consider buying.

Vegetarian Cannibal said...

I can not STAND fanfiction or people who write fanfiction. It is such a blatant show of disrespect to the original work and to the author.

The author worked hard to create those characters/worlds and for someone to steal that without permission is not only illegal, but immoral! As authors, we should work to be as original and fair as possible. Fanfiction degrades that.

If you want to write something "inspired" by someone else, just do that! Don't steal their whole idea and try to pass it off for your own! If you get permission from the author to use their characters, that is OK. But in any other format is just inexcusable.

Also, a lot of fanfiction I've read is horribly-written, which makes sense. Crappy writers would have to resort to stealing. However, good fanfiction pisses me off because that tells me the writer has TALENT but is unwilling/lazy to write their own material. Seeing good writers do that breaks my heart. Honestly, I want to shake them! LOL!

I can't appreciate plagiarism/unoriginality. It offends me as a writer. I work to hone my craft into something great--to me, writing is an ART. So for someone to "steal" goes against the very nature/essence of what artists do. We CREATE--not clone or copy.

Marian said...

This is a long reply, Vegetarian Cannibal, so please bear with me.

I can not STAND fanfiction or people who write fanfiction.

Sorry to hear you can't stand me. :)

It is such a blatant show of disrespect to the original work and to the author.

We'll have to agree to disagree on that one, since I think the nature of the fanfic is what determines the degree of respect or disrespect, rather than the sole fact that the fanfic exists.

As authors, we should work to be as original and fair as possible. Fanfiction degrades that.

Just curious - is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies fanfiction? What about Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter? And all the Sherlock Holmes books that Doyle didn't write?

Not to mention all the V. C. Andrews books currently being put out by a ghostwriter? And then there are all the Star Trek and Star Wars novelizations. Not at all original, since they're using someone else's characters and world.

If a lack of originality = degradation, it seems to me like a lot of that degradation might be coming from published work as well as fanfic.

If you want to write something "inspired" by someone else, just do that! Don't steal their whole idea and try to pass it off for your own!

Again, that depends on how much of the idea a fanfic uses. I disagree with the implication that fanfic equates to the theft of a "whole idea".

And as for passing it off as my own... no one mistakes me for Hasbro.

If you get permission from the author to use their characters, that is OK. But in any other format is just inexcusable.

So Pride and Prejudice and Zombies must be inexcusable, unless Jane rose from the dead to give her permission.

Also, a lot of fanfiction I've read is horribly-written, which makes sense.

A lot of everything is horribly written.

Crappy writers would have to resort to stealing.

I'd appreciate it if you didn't insult writers on my blog. I think it's possible to discuss this issue without such comments.

However, good fanfiction pisses me off because that tells me the writer has TALENT but is unwilling/lazy to write their own material.

Well, I've been complimented on my fanfics, but I also published a book recently. So am I unwilling/lazy or did someone else write that book when I wasn't looking?

Seeing good writers do that breaks my heart. Honestly, I want to shake them! LOL!

I'm afraid I can't return the sentiment, since I don't believe shaking anyone is likely to accomplish anything productive.

I work to hone my craft into something great--to me, writing is an ART. So for someone to "steal" goes against the very nature/essence of what artists do. We CREATE--not clone or copy.

Jean Rhys wrote the classic Wide Sargasso Sea using some of Charlotte Bronte's characters. Without Bronte's permission. The book is still a wonderful read.

Even if some writers create ex nihilo, without any input from others, why should other writers be condemned for taking certain elements from other books and making something different from them?

Some fanfics are derivative and unoriginal, I agree. But others aren't. I've read many that are well-written and imaginative. And I don't believe that anything good I read or write is wasted.

Marian said...

Neutral Fire : Just curious, what other world would your crossover be with?

I usually don't read crossover fics, because developing the characters of one world can be challenging enough without adding another. But there was a great Transformers/Buffy fic I loved. Probably because it focused on just one character from each fandom, rather than trying to fit everyone in.

Maria : I hear you on the TBR pile. Glad you liked the post too. :)

Marian said...

Linda : You're right, it is addictive because of the instant feedback - which tends to be positive and uncritical.

I'm very careful with anything I post to the Internet, fanfics included, but I know I could post fanfics with typos and no one would point them out (even though I'd want them to).

As for the people who pitched the script... wow. I like fanfics which explore relationships. Heck, I have one which takes place during the first few seconds of a character's existence, so it's atmospheric and heavy on the internal dialogue. I was going for a Ray Bradbury-esque style.

But I know that kind of thing couldn't be filmed, ever.

People who want to pitch a script need to be able to look at their fanfics critically and compare them to what's currently being produced. Much like submitting a manuscript.

Linda Adams said...

Unfortunately, this story didn't really explore the relationships in the way I think you're talking about. Rather, it was wish fulfillment. These two women were fantasizing about marrying the characters (the characters were single in the series) and having kids with them--one had even posted a photo of her wedding dress on her website and said it was the one that had been worn to the wedding. Not entirely sure what her husband thought of this ...

By the way, fan fiction was professionally published in the 1980s by Bantam. When Star Trek was really popular, they had a call for the best fan fiction and published several anthologies: http://memory-alpha.org/wiki/Star_Trek:_The_New_Voyages

Randall said...

I neither write, nor read, fanfiction. I don't understand fanfiction. I have no urge to write in other people's universes or to do unspeakable things to other people's characters.

Basically, I'm not a Fan, though I am sometimes a fan, if you get my drift.

Marian said...

Writing Transformers fanfics wasn't entirely a dead end (pun intended) pursuit, since a few writers were hired by the Powers That Be in an official capacity.

Maybe they were doing speakable things to the characters. :)

So it remains a grey area to me in terms of ethics and creativity.