Fan Fiction – Marketing Genius or Child-Molestation?

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There was a piece on Time magazine’s website about a month ago that I found to be fascinating reading. The full piece, titled, “The Boy Who Lived Forever” is at http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,2081784,00.html and begins by talking about the Harry Potter books and how, even though J.K. Rowling has no plans to write any more Potter books, they will endure for a particularly long time because she has given her blessing to any and all who wish to play in her universe and create fan fiction (AKA ‘fan fic’). Similarly, Stephenie Meyer has given Twilight fans permission to write stories about Team Edward and Team Jacob and Team Whatever-else-you-feel-like-writing-in-the-Twilight-universe.

This is in stark contrast to the positions of people like Orson Scott Card (“I will sue, because if I do NOT act vigorously to protect my copyright, I will lose that copyright…”), Ann Rice (“I do not allow fan fiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters.”), George R.R. Martin (“My characters are my children… I don’t want people making off with them, thank you. Even people who say they love my children.”) and Ursula K. Le Guin,( “To me, it’s not sharing but an invasion, literally—strangers coming in and taking over the country I live in, my heartland.”)

I can understand the “My characters are my children” argument, as well as the “Strangers coming in and taking over the country I live in” argument. Works of fiction can be very personal. And while the author of the Time piece counters that argument with the notion that “A writer’s characters are his or her children, but even children have to grow up eventually and do things their parents wouldn’t approve of,” I’ll counter his counter-argument by saying that a)people have children for very different reasons from the reasons why they write books; b)there aren’t hundreds of thousands of people who want to take over the lives of my children, and those who want to make them have sex with farm animals (and other even odder stuff that happens in fan fiction) get sent to jail; and c) having children comes with an expectation that those children are going to go out into the world one day—in fact, it’s a parent’s job to teach children how to function in the world and care for themselves. There is no such expectation when an author writes a novel. To extend that metaphor, the novel goes out into the world as a whole and has to stand on its own two feet, but expecting that from your novel’s characters is like expecting your heart and lungs to go out on their own and leave the safety of the rest of the body.

Having said all that, and fully understanding why authors might be justifiably uncomfortable with other people “using” their “children,” I still find myself falling into the category of authors who would be more likely to approve of fan fiction based on my work than not. Admittedly, no one is clamoring to use any of my characters at this point, so for me this is purely an intellectual exercise. But it seems to me that from a business/marketing standpoint, Rowling and Meyers got it right. By allowing others to play with their character and their worlds, they essentially got a fan-built viral marketing campaign supporting their books. For free.

Were some things done—some horrible, terrible, atrocious things—to Edward and Harry in the process? Of that I have no doubt. But here’s the thing: Harry Potter is not J.K. Rowling’s son, or even a living, breathing human being. He’s a literary construct. And if .14% of the fan-fic out there would have turned Rowling’s stomach (assuming she saw it at all) the other 99.86% significantly helped improve her market share. At the very least, it helped a few people find her books that might not have been aware of them otherwise. At the most, it drove sales faster and farther than she ever could have on her own. It was certainly a factor in the series becoming the cultural phenomenon that it is.

Does that make Card wrong in saying, “…if I do NOT act vigorously to protect my copyright, I will lose that copyright”? Maybe not in a technical/legal sense, but I think he’s missing the forest for the trees. As popular as his Ender books are (they’re even being taught today in schools), I think they would be even more popular if he had allowed others to play in that universe. And look at Rice. As popular as her books had been at one time, they don’t hold anywhere near the fascination they once did. Admittedly, nothing lasts forever, but if allowing fan fic might have given her vampire novels another ten years worth of legs, wouldn’t it have been worth it? Those books might have lasted long enough to catch the current vampire wave and enjoyed a significant resurgence of sales.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me: Sales and marketing is not the end all and be all of every conversation. Of course it isn’t. But coming back to the “my characters are my children argument,” I have two real, flesh-and-blood children, and I’d love nothing more than to see those two children succeed and thrive in the world— I want that for them in many forms: financially and otherwise. For all the time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears, we put into our books, why would we want any less success there? Financially and otherwise.

That’s where I stand anyway. What do you think?

BTW, once you’ve answered that question, I strongly encourage you to go and read the original article in full (if you haven’t already). It covers a lot more than just the positions on this subject of famous authors; it also looks into the history of fan fiction and talks about a great deal of things of interest to sci-fi and fantasy fans, which is the single biggest source of, and market for, fan fiction out there.

***P.S. Faith raised an important point below in the comments section that made me realize I should have defined what exactly fan fic is and is not. In a nutshell, fan fic is written by people for free, to be read by people for free. Anything else very quickly turns the corner and ventures into the treacherous waters of piracy, where people make money off the intellectual property of others. Those practicing and profiting from piracy should be keel-hauled in the nude beneath the belly of the HMS Titanic (before she sank in iceberg-fill seas or after, either one is fine with me).

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38 comments to Fan Fiction – Marketing Genius or Child-Molestation?

  • Jeremy Beltran

    Im on the fence. While I agree with you that fan fic would do my novels more good than harm, Im just not sure I could deal with the crazy stuff people come up with. Ive read some fan fiction and some of it is bizarre to say the least. But if I was in Rowling’s or Meyers’s position I’d say go for it. While Im developing a character Id be against it but once I was done with the series and moved on to another I think I could get to like seeing what good and bad things those fan fiction writers do to my characters. But it would definitely have to be after I was done with the characters. That or at least I dont want to know about it. I’d hate for fan fiction to put a halt to a story I was working on because someone else had a similar idea with my characters.

  • englishpixie

    I’ve been part of the fanfiction community since I was twelve (I’m twenty-four now, and I write my own original fiction, too, as a direct result of having learnt to writ through fanfiction) and while I can understand the authors who feel uncomfortable with the idea of it, I have to agree with you and say that fanfiction – and internet fandom generally – is this massive, free marketing tool that can really drive a book or TV show or movie or anything, really, into becoming much more popular and much more successful. Because the thing fans do more than anything else is talk to one another about things that they love, and listen to each other and try those things out, and then fall in love with them ourselves.

    I’m not saying that fandom can be monetised (and whenever anyone has tried fandom has kicked them from one side of the galaxy to the other with iron-toed boots, the Fanlib debacle case in point) but what it really does is encourage fans to keep being fans, long after the original series has ended. And while there is some crazy stuff, some terrible stuff, and some downright disturbing stuff that goes on in fanfiction, there is also beautiful, fabulously-written, insightful and moving fiction written there, too. For the love of it. For free. For anyone who wants to read it. And isn’t that lovely?

  • I had a long conversation with Lucienne about this, with the thought that I’d allow fans to write in my Rogue Mage universe in one of 3 ways:
    1. only on a site I had designed and owned
    2. anywhere
    3. to have fans send in stories and me publish them in an anthology

    She strongly counseled against it in any way. The reasons were *many* but the biggest one is this. If some Hollywood company picked up movie rights they would *require* release forms from *every single person* writing the fan-fic. I’d lose the deal, or be forced to share payment. So, since I hope for a movie deal someday (who wouldn’t?) I will continue to state that I want no knowledge of fanfic, and that if I am forcibly made aware of it, I’ll have no choice but to sue. So don’t beat me over the head with it, please. (hiding eyes and ears)

    JK and SM are icons. The movies have been made. Now it’s safe for others to play in their universes. Not so for the rest of us. Card is smart.

  • Jeremy – I agree with you that I’d rather see fan fic develop after I was done writing a series of books about some characters. And I think the original article talked about some authors having a policy o NOT reading fan fic for exactly the reason you cite–fear of someone else having a similar idea to one they were working on. I’ve already got a pretty got habit developed about not reading reviews; think I could develop a similar one about not reading fan fic without too much effort on my part.

    englishpixie – You hit the nail on the head; “encourage fans to keep being fans long after the series has ended” is exactly one of the main benefits to the writers as well as to the fans. I could not have said it better. I’ll have to check out the ‘Fanlib debacle’ you mentioned; I’m not familiar with it but I am curious now.

  • Faith – Very interesting, no beating required. Setting up your own site for fans to write on or publishing the fan fic in an anthology are two things that never would have occurred to me, because that seems like more than one step beyond simply allowing fan fic, it’s one giant leap into encouraging it. I could see all sorts of logistical nightmares associated with such moves and agree wholeheartedly with Lucienne. But I don’t see how simply turning a blind eye and allowing others to ‘play’ in your Rogue Mage universe translates to having to get a release from them before a movie deal could be signed. Of course, Lucienne is the expert on this, not me, so I’m sure there are all sorts of situations she’s already dealt with that I haven’t even imagined yet.

  • Ed–first, welcome back.

    I’m a bit ambivolent about this, though I love the logical hatchet job you’ve done on the books-as-children argument, an all too familiar and lazy metaphor on which authors constantly fall back. It just doesn’t hold water.

    My instinct is that, like Faith, if there’s even a possibility that I could lose control of my world/characters because of fan fic I’ll be out with a pitch fork and cries of “get off my lawn!” Whether that’s a real possibility or not, I have no idea.

    But I’m also skeptical of the idea that fan fic promotes the original books. How exactly? Surely the people writing it have already read the books and seen the movies or they wouldn’t be drawn to their world? Surely also as fan fic proliferates the original books become less relevant and so make them perhaps LESS relevant to the spread of the world outside the author’s original design? In the postmodern mashup world we live in, surely fan fic will render the originals irrelevant, no longer even a source of authority?

    Lastly, I confess that as a writer I just can’t imagine the appeal of writing stories about other people’s world and characters. I’m sure there are lots of good reasons to do it, but to me it will always seem less creative than making up your own stuff. That’s not a criticism; it’s a statement of personal taste.

  • Ed, the problem lies in the word “allow”. If people use Faith’s characters without her knowledge, she can conceivably say she knew nothing about it. If she actually puts the word out that she’s okay with people creating new stories and sharing them with her in some fashion, she becomes subject to fan writers accusing her of stealing their work if, down the road, one of her own stories should bear any resemblance to a fan-created work.

  • Morning, AJ. Great to be back. I agree wholeheartedly with you that the idea of losing control of characters would inspire pitchfork-based actions. I also agree completely that I don’t personally see any appeal to writing about other authors’ characters and worlds. Just not my thing. As for how fan fic promotes the original books, I suspect it’s because it’s a way to get passionate people talking about those books and characters. People who write fan fic are usually doing so because they are crazy in love with the characters and the world and can’t enough of them. They’re out there selling this stuff left and right, and recruiting others to the cause. It’s the conversations that it inspires that is fan fic’s primary source of power.

    Misty, I don’t think it’s the “allowing” part that gets an author into tricky territory; I think it’s the “sharing them with her” part that has the most potential for trouble. But I think a statement along the lines of “There are a lot of legal and professional reasons why I can’t read ANY of this stuff, but if you want to write about XYZ, I’m not going to hunt you down and sue you” would cover the bases pretty nicely. To be 100% clear, I’m not saying Faith is wrong to take the position she has, nor am I trying to talk her into changing her mind. I’m just saying that’s the approach I personally would take, and I think it would be effective. And I’m still wide open to being convinced that there are important points in this conversation that I’ve overlooked.

  • For all the reasons cited by Faith, A.J., and Misty, I have always been hesitant to allow fan-fic in my worlds. That said, I have also wished fervantly that I was well-known enough that people would WANT to write fan-fic in my worlds, so I suppose there is something double-edged about the issue. I agree with A.J.’s point — I’m not convinced that allowing fan-fic will actually impact sales in any meaningful way. I think the number of people who write and read it is fairly small in the larger scheme of things, and by definition they are people who are already familiar with the books. On the other hand, I think that the legal issues are real and an important consideration.

    Good to see you back, Edmund. Thanks for an interesting link and discussion.

  • I think I understand, writers should:

    See no fan fiction, speak no fan fiction, hear no fan fiction.

  • Thanks for the comment, David. I suspect this whole line of thinking is very much akin to the conversation about the pros and cons of giving away free electronic editions of books as a way of driving sales of paper/printed books. Some people see it as a pointless exercise in giving away your work for nothing; others see it as a valuable way of introducing readers to your work and building a devoted fan base. But that’s the beauty of living in America: we all get to post our opinions on the internet and then do whatever it is that makes us happy. 😉

  • Edmund et. al.
    I *am* turning a blind eye. If you will reread my original statement you will see this:
    >>I will continue to state that I want no knowledge of fanfic, and that if I am forcibly made aware of it, I’ll have no choice but to sue. So don’t beat me over the head with it, please. (hiding eyes and ears)

    The words *forcibly made aware* and *hiding my eyes and ears* means I am *NOT* chasing down someone to stop *anything*. Just don’t tell me about it. ONLY if I am made aware of it, as in the case of someone making money off my world and intellectual property, would I defend my rights in court.

  • Someone else making money off of your world and your intellectual property no longer qualifies a fan fic. That’s just plain old piracy, and I hunt those kinds of pirates down and skewer them with a twelve foot long double-bladed cutlass. The very definition of fan fic is that no one paid the people who write, and no one pays to read it. True fan fic is a 100%-voluntary labor of love. Nothing else. If you find anyone else doing anything else, let me know and I’ll get my cutlass and we’ll go a-hunting together.

  • AE, not necessarily. Naomi Novik was writing Pern/Aubrey-Maturin crossover fanfic when her agent suggested that she take out all the proprietary names and publish her own stories. The result? The Temeraire series, which I LOVE. And it wouldn’t have happened without her foray into fanfic.

    The danger I was talking about happens when a fan decides he owns the world the writer created, and sues the original creator for stealing his work. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. In which case it’s smart for the writer to maintain a level of deniability, by avoiding the fanfic that’s written in her world. But honestly, it’s up to the individual writer to make that call for herself.

  • I said it in my Live Journal, 13 May 2010

    What happens in fanfic… shouldn’t happen

    Fanfic seems to be the hot topic right now, and I’ve done some thinking about it.

    I understand that Terry Pratchett takes the stance that, as long as he doesn’t have to read it and they’re not stealing from him, he’s okay with it.

    George Martin, on the other hand, feels not unreasonably that his creations are his children, and he’d rather not see someone messing with them.

    I’ve personally felt that, as long as no one was interrupting my income stream or breaking any copyright laws, I wouldn’t be upset finding fans doing non-canon things with characters I have created. It would be flattering, I felt, that anyone would care enough about who I’ve written into being to create further adventures for them. (I said this, mind you, not having seen any of my darlings subjected to fannish whims; I might feel differently if I knew people were actually doing this.)

    But, having thought some upon the subject, I’m edging away from thinking it’d be all right. I don’t have Martin’s reservation but a rather different one:

    I don’t want my characters to suffer from bad writing.

    Face it. Most fan fiction is of the quality that makes the editor in me want to tear out my eyeballs. It can make David Weber or Robert Jordan or even Dan Brown appear literate.

    There was a time when anything that was expected to be seen by a lot of eyes had to make its way through a labyrinth on its way to publication – readers and agents and editors and publishers (even fanfic usually went through a fanzine editor before many people read it) – but the Internet has changed all that. Anyone can publish anything that happens to fall off their fingertips into their keyboards and have it seen by hundreds or thousands or even millions of people. As James Burke asked, “When everyone can publish, what happens to standards?” Well, we’ve seen the results on the Net, and they aren’t pretty. They are, in fact, downright frightening. (Half the people who read LOLcats don’t realize the words are misspelled.[Citation needed])

    I, for one, would rather spare my fictional characters from being subjected to the brutal ignominy of hackneyed story arcs, mangled syntax, gruesome grammar, and just plain bad Bad BAD writing.

    On the other hand, if a producer wants to make a horrid movie from something I’ve written–fine, no problem, full speed ahead, and gawd bless. Just be sure to spell my name right on the check.

  • SkipaChip

    I know for a fact that fan fiction does promote books, shows, movies, or what have you, and I know it because I shop for new books by checking out the number of fics written about it. I’ll go to a site like fanfiction.com, and sort by popularity. Whatever is top of the list must be good. Writing fan fiction is such a useless, time wasting endeavor. Why would so many people do it? Obviously, because the books were so good that they have been moved to emulate. Perhaps, if it’s that good, that’s a book I should read. That’s a cult I should join. This is how I discovered the Vampire Academy books. And I have no idea what Maximum Ride is, so one day I’ll check them out as well.

    Note: I don’t actually Read the fan fiction until after I’ve read the books. What’s the point of attending the cult meetings if you aren’t a member?

    Of course, as an author, I probably wouldn’t want to see anything written about my characters. At least, not until all the books were written and the movie(s) were made. 🙂

  • I think this question goes beyond just a bunch of teens swapping Harry and Ron fantasies in study hall. Right now there are published books in which famous characters from Austen and Conan Doyle are being given a whole new life and set of adventures. These books are essentially fanfic of books with expired copyright. Some of these books are doing very well critically as well as making money. But there’s something fundamentally ghoulish about it that continues to bother me as a reader. I’ll use the Sherlock Holmes books as an example. I love Holmes. I read and reread the Holmes books as a kid. I don’t WANT to read some other author’s take on his character, setting and afterlife. I don’t actually care if the books are well written. If the author had simply been inspired by Holmes and written a series of stories about a retired famous detective in Edwardian England, I’d be fine with that too. But Sherlock exists in the pages of Conan Doyle and, perhaps just as importantly, he exists in my imagination. I don’t want some other writer, however talented, taking over my imagined landscapes any more than LeGuin wants it happening in her world. I think when fanfic goes this far, it’s fundamentally disrespectful of the reader as well as the writer. And I’ll go back to the ghoul metaphor – it’s trying to dig up dead bodies and imbue them with an alien life. That’s not “Sherlock Lives On!” that’s “Look, we’ve body snatched a famous character,” however well meaning or well done that is.

    Here’s my other problem with fanfic – at a certain point it stops being a type of apprenticeship for writers and becomes a straight jacket because the writer is limited to the formula that makes the original world work. And that stifles creativity, rather than promoting it. Consider the endless Star Wars series or the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys type book series for an example.

    So…yeah, I guess kids swapping Harry fantasies in study hall is probably not going to hurt anyone. But as an author and a reader, I don’t want it anywhere near me.

  • I think, though insular, there’s nothing terribly wrong with the fanfic community. Really it’s not that much different than when I was eight, and my friends and I would play with Star Wars action figures. We’d create new stories, new battles, lots of fun and it didn’t hurt George Lucas at all. Fanfic has always struck me as an adult version of the same thing. People are playing with the characters that have meant something to them and sharing it with their friends. No harm done.

    Obviously if you start trying to sell such works, harm start being done, but then you’re no longer in the world of fanfic. As for whether or not it makes a difference in sales, I suspect it only makes a difference in that it helps strengthen a community around your characters — perhaps helping future sales of the next book, but probably not.

    I think Sarah’s points, however, are far more fascinating. Are the published mash-ups just glorified fanfic? And does writing fanfic stifle your growth as a writer? Hmmmm.

  • I’m with Stuart on all of his points, especially his fascination with Sarah’s points. I agree with them, though I simultaneously find myself thinking that it MIGHT be as simple as, If you don’t care for, don’t read it. As readers, we always have that choice. There’s way more out there in books that I’ll ever have time to read, so I have to make those kinds of choices all the time, fan fic or otherwise. Fan fic is not on my reading radar at all, and if I ever actually have to make a REAL decision about it as an author, I’ll count that as a very good day indeed.

    Wolf – I think your argument of “I don’t want my characters subjected to bad writing” is a close cousin of the “my characters are my children” argument, and while I understand it, I still don’t find it a compelling enough argument to make me think it’s a bad idea.

    Misty – Great story about Naomi Novik. I wasn’t familiar with it.

  • BTW, I just read englighpixie’s link to the article about the death of Fanlib. In a nutshell, some venture capitalists tried to buy their way into building a profitable fan fic site site, which frankly crosses the line in my book into piracy territory, and I’m pleased to report that the venture capitalists lost their shirts. Good riddance. Fascinating article though, and I’d recommend reading the whole thing for yourself if this is a subject of interest to you. Thanks for the link, engpix (that’s your new nickname).

  • Unicorn

    One day when I’m a real writer I’ll worry about stuff like this. For now, I’ll go back to shaking my hero by the collar and demanding how in the world he thinks he’s going to get out of this particular scrape. Thanks for the interesting post, Edmund. I think I was about eight when I wrote a short piece of fanfic, if you can call it that. I pulled all my favourite characters out of my favourite pony books and mashed them all together in a riding school with me as the instructor. Silly, huh? Well, I’ve never ventured back into those perilous waters, thankfully. Back to the WIP.
    Unicorn

  • “Back to the WIP.” That’s probably the best answer there is, Unicorn. Keep at it.

  • englishpixie

    I have a nickname? Now I feel special 😀

    Not only did Fanlib cross the line into trying to make money from fans writing fiction with other people’s copyrighted characters, but they basically ignored the entire ecosystem of fandom, which is that it’s a free-trade, barter economy where no money exchanges hands. And the fans got really, really pissed. There were some excellent and very damning articles written by a huge multitude of fans regarding not only the company’s T&C agreement but their entire attitude towards fans, their intentions and their complete disregard for a community they had no part in and never had had a part in. I’m not gonna lie, it was a pretty awesome backlash. (See here for a whole lj community that was set up to mobilise fandom against Fanlib, and here for Aca-fan Henry Jenkins’ take on it.)

    What a lot of people don’t realise is that the vast majority of fanfiction-writing fandom is made up of mid-twenties or older, college-educated women (fanfiction-based fandom is something like 90% female.) It’s been around pretty much forever, if you include the great storytelling traditions of making up your own stories about Brer Rabbit, for example. It’s only recently that copyright law has become such a massive factor in storytelling generally – books, movies, TV – that it’s impacted on fandom. Who, on the whole, are hyper-aware of copyright law and where the line is. It’s only recently that fandom has become as visible as it has been today, because now that it’s on the internet it’s become steadily more and more visible as more and more articles – usually written by people who have never been part of that community, and thus who are never truly insiders enough to understand it fully – have been published.

    Sarah – You say “at a certain point it stops being a type of apprenticeship for writers and becomes a straight jacket because the writer is limited to the formula that makes the original world work. And that stifles creativity, rather than promoting it.” I would strongly disagree with this. It’s not usually the best-written worlds that fanfiction writers really pick up on, but the ones with the most space to build on. And some of the work that comes out of fandom is amazing, truly outstanding and better than many published works. I hesitate to link to specific examples as I wouldn’t have the permission of the writers to do so in such a public space, but there is so much room for creativity and exploration in fandom.

    Take Inception for example – the whole idea of this dream-sharing community and technology leaves so much room for exploration of what that world might be like. So many published authors (as stated above, Naomi Novik, as well as Sarah Rees Brennan among others) started out writing fanfiction, and learned how to write by getting free feedback from a whole group of different people who loved the same things as them and got excited about their writing. I write original fiction now too but I started out in fandom, and I shudder to think what my work would have been like without such a brilliant, intelligent sounding-board community to play against and learn from.

    Fandom is something I’m really passionate about. I do understand that the authors need to take care with what they do and don’t ‘know’ about, because that is a potential legal issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly. But fandom should not be dismissed as non-creative or theft, either. It’s more a kind of love. If your work has a fandom, it means that people loved it enough to want to spend more time there.

  • Shawna

    The… vehemence with which some writers hate fanfic never ceases to amaze me. I can understand why they wouldn’t want to read it (for reasons both legal and personal), but to take that to the levels of rage-filled blog posts or lawsuits is kind of shocking. It immediately brings to mind the the whole Diana Gabaldon frenzy (The original blog post seems to have been deleted, my apologies), during which she stated that fanfic was immoral, and likened it to home invasion and white slavery, among other things. I’m not familiar with her books, but she got pretty rabid about the whole thing, to the point where thousands of people who had never even heard of her (myself included) resolved never to read her books strictly by virtue of her atrocious behavior. It’s an extreme example, but I can only imagine how many fans and potential readers she lost over that debacle.

    Which isn’t to say that writers shouldn’t have a say in whether or not they choose to allow fanfic of their work, of course. Just that the topic should be approached with dignity (as it has been here). Not all, but most fans will respect the author’s wishes.

    Maybe I’ve got a different perspective on the situation because I started on the fanfic side of the fence. I was writing fanfic before I knew what fanfic was. When I was younger the concept of writing books was impossible to me. Books were my best friends and the people who wrote them were obviously not Real People, but rather some sort of literary demigods who deigned to share their awesomeness with the rest of us. Fanfic took the fear out of writing for me. It was a safe hobby to share with other people who loved the source material just as much as I did.

    Reading books taught me the most about how to construct a good story, but fanfic taught me how to put words on the page in an entertaining and engaging way. Fanfic was what gave me the courage to ultimately try my hand at my own original fiction. I’ll probably even publish some day as long as I persevere, whether it be the next book, or five down the road, or twenty. I honestly doubt I would ever have come as far as I have if not for fanfiction, and it has a special place in my heart for that alone.

    If I’m ever lucky enough to have to make a decision about it as an author, my stance will probably be whatever my publisher or agent says my stance should be. But secretly? I’d love it. I may not be able to read any of it, but knowing it was out there would be the highest praise possible. Sort of like paying it forward, in a strange kind of way. I don’t write just for me; I write to share, and if that inspires someone to borrow my characters for their own adventures, all the better.

    Wow, that got longer than I intended! This is just one of those topics that strikes close to home for me. 🙂

  • @englishpixie wrote “And some of the work that comes out of fandom is amazing, truly outstanding and better than many published works.”

    True. I’ve seen fanfic by a friend of a friend that is moving, beautiful, and wonderfully well crafted. But that rather proves my point than disproves it. I didn’t say that writing fanfic at all stifles creativity, but that “at a certain point” it has that effect. The friend of a friend in question can never publish her fanfic because the minute she makes money off it, she’s violated Rowling’s copyright. This F of an F is a truly talented writer – but if she doesn’t move through the fanfic to writing her own world, even if it’s a Rowling inspired world, she’ll never be a professional writer and she won’t fully tap into what she can do with her imagination.

    Think of fanfic like a pool float. It gives growing swimmers something safe and settled to hang on to as they kick and splash and find their own floating ability in the big awesome scariness that is the water. But at some point, which may be different for different people, if you want to really swim, you have to let go of the pool float. The same goes for writing. Fanfic may be an apprenticeship for some writers. Reading and fantasizing are certainly essential parts of that growth process, so I don’t see why writing fanfic couldn’t be an extension of those two activities. (Lord knows I’ve been on enough imaginary quests with Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship.)

    BUT, eventually the emerging writer has to let go of the fanfic and strike out into the deep waters of their own imagination. Or, they choose to stay in the shallow end, hanging on to the pool float. I’m not saying it’s immoral to do that, any more than it’s immoral to not swim well, but if being a professional writer is the goal, then the fanfic has to be a stage, not a goal in itself. For those who don’t want to be professionals, that’s fine – really, it is. People write for many different reasons, with different goals. But professionals, in this day and in this publishing environment, have to move past the fanfic stage to fully develop as writers. Creativity doesn’t require abandoning our roots and inspirations, but it does mean eventually owning our own imagined worlds and developing them, not somebody else’s.

  • Walking through a Chicago music festival today, an anology struck me. Being a writer of fan fic is like playing in a cover band. It’s fun, maybe even a great way to start out playing live, but surely–SURELY–we aspire for me?

  • What I meant to write:

    Walking through a Chicago music festival today, an analogy struck me. Being a writer of fan fic is like playing in a cover band. It’s fun, maybe even a great way to start out playing live, but surely–SURELY–we aspire for more?

    Apologies.

  • surely–SURELY–we aspire for me?

    Of course we aspire for you, darlin’ – who wouldn’t? *grins and runs away*

  • Tom G

    I’ve written a lot of fan fic. I did it almost exclusively for at least 5 years. I never wrote in another writer’s fictional universe, but in old cancelled TV shows. So me and the others in that area of Fan Fic didn’t do anything to keep the TV series alive, but we had fun “extending” the series. Some writers are incredible true to the characters. It was fun, but I grew tired of it and my own characters called be back from Purgatory.

  • When I read your post, I immediately thought of this quote from Anais Nin, which I think sums up how I feel…
    “The writer writes his letter to the world. When the world answers it is like the sorcerer’s apprentice. He cannot control what he has summoned.” !!!

  • Razziecat

    I only recently discovered fanfic, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that my jaw dropped when I realized that there is fanfic for everything–and I do mean everything. TV shows, movies, the actors who played the parts in those shows & movies, books, games..you name it. Some of it is terrible, and some of it is beautiful, better-written than some published books I’ve read. Many fanfic writers do have beta readers, and it shows. But what impressed me most is the sheer creativity that is finding expression through fanfic. And I think a great deal of it can be considered homage to the original work. That said, I totally agree that anyone who tries to make money off someone else’s copyrighted work deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    “On the other hand, if a producer wants to make a horrid movie from something I’ve written–fine, no problem, full speed ahead, and gawd bless. Just be sure to spell my name right on the check.”

    Wolf, this comment seems to contradict the comment you made just above it, and seems (forgive me) a bit hypocritical. You seem to be saying that even well-written fanfic is bad, but a terrible movie is fine, as long as it pays you. But fanfic, good or bad, generates no money for the fanfic author, either. Perhaps this disturbs me because I don’t agree with the general idea that movies are the pinnacle of artistic achievement. It’s nice to see a story I love brought to life, but for me it will never equal the value of the book itself.

  • Movies are rarely the pinnacle of artistic achievement, but they are usually the pinnacle of financial achievement. Sad but true.

  • My only problem with fanfic is the scary legal ramifications, such as a fanfic writer suing because I’d “stolen” some of their ideas. I’d probably have to take the standpoint of “Must pretend it doesn’t exist even if it does”.

    I tried writing fanfic a few times when I was much younger, but something felt off about it. It didn’t feel right and it actually felt too creatively constraining.

    However, there have been two instances where I wrote pieces with the permission of the creator. In both cases, they were for webcomics, and given freely. In one case, the creator and I have talked about me writing more, again with his permission, but still likely mostly for fun (i.e. when I need a break from what I’m working on currently). Even if nothing else comes of it, it was fun, it required his feedback before anything was posted, and I made a strong effort to stay true to the characters and universe. I’m not exactly sure if that’s the same thing as fanfic, though.

  • As an un-published writer, I have very few problems with fanfic, and when I was writing, I greatly enjoyed it. It created a very strong community around the original works and created strong encouragement to keep writing on a regular basis. I completey stopped fanfic after I began to work on my own original stories, and I don’t plan to go back in the foreseeable future.

    That said, if I ever have to deal with people doing fanfic of my own work, I know that I will spend a great deal of time re-evaluating my feelings on the subject, because many authors do see their work as somewhat personal, and Le Guin’s comment about people invading the country in which she lives resonates strongly with how I feel about my writing.

  • Fanfiction is how really started buckling down with writing — Gundam Wing for those curious. I met friends interested in writing and we set up beta reading and deadlines for each other. Had a small following so i felt obligated to stay on schedule. I was also determined to keep my style good.

    I never got into reading fanfiction written in someone else’s writing universe. I not only fell in love with someone’s world, but also with their writing style.

    But the downside to writing fanfic that I found I lost the ability to create my own world while doing it. I struggled when I went back to writing original stuff in my own world. Trying to balance that, fanfiction, and college, well — writing took a back seat to studies and fanfiction went even further back.

    Now I focus on original stuff and getting my writing and my friends writings out there for the world, but I believe fanfiction has a place in it. It’s a good place to get the next generation interested in writing and in learning to play with established characters — where people will call them on going too far outside hte lines unless they learn to justify that. From there, the really good ones will keep going and work for people to make ff of their own stuff.

  • I have to say I think Card’s position, legally and technically, is basically incorrect. That’s just not how copyright works. You create an artistic work. You own the copyright. He can never lose the copyright to his own works because some fan wrote a derivative work.

    And, as has been pointed out here and elsewhere, ideas can’t be copyrighted, either. So the fact that an idea that may have been introduced in a fanfiction finds its way into an actual work of the original authors would be baseless for a lawsuit as well – provided the original author didn’t lift actual passages from the fanfic (in which case, maybe the fanfic writer would have a case, but what self-respecting author would ever be found intentionally plagiarizing their fanfic writers?). Point being, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a case where such an accusation was made where the fanfic writer prevailed. The original author is always on firm legal ground.

    That said, I can understand wanting to protect ones self from ramifications. Saying that a fanfic writer would be baseless in their accusations doesn’t mean that the mere fact of the accusation isn’t a major PITA – both financially and in terms of lost time and productivity. Even knowing you’ll win, there’s a lot of stress and hassle and cost to dealing with a lawsuit like this. An almost assured victory is no happy ending to a scenario like that.

    I’m in the camp that agrees with Stuart’s comment – fanfic is a lot like the grown-up version of playing with licensed action figures. I’m also in the camp that is profoundly uncomfortable with it – not becausse the characters are my children in any sense (for that analogy to make sense, it would be the books, not the characters, that are my children), but because the idea of what happens in certain corners of the Fanfic community profoundly disturbs me. And that’s when I think about it being done to other people’s characters, much less my own. I’m also in the camp that never quite understood the appeal. From my very youngest days as a writer, while I had no problem taking overt inspiration from a published story or world, I would still try to make it my own – separate and distinct, by creating my own world and my own characters… only heavily “flavored” with what I’d just read or seen.

    If I were ever in the position of actually needing to worry about it, I’d probably put myself in the “hear no evil, see no evil” camp. Y’all play nicely, but don’t come a-callin’. George Lucas doesn’t need to know what I do with my Star Wars Action Figures, and I don’t need to know what you do with your fanfic.

  • Alan Kellogg

    What about Lovecraft, who could be said to be the first to encourage fan fiction. He shared tropes with other writers, and even borrowed from them. Thus encouraging a community that thrives to this day. I was reminded of this by the book The Mall of Cthulhu, a parody of Lovecraftian works.