Lately there seems to be a dust-up with the continuing question of whether fanfiction is a) a flattering display of how much fans adore a writer’s work or b) an unfair theft of characters and worlds someone else did the work to create. It’s a neverending argument, but the heat rises and falls. Recently Diana Gabaldon shared her feelings about it, and was mobbed by fanfiction writers desperate to tell her how wrong she was to feel the way she did (I think she may have locked the posts, since I can’t find them now.) George R R Martin (who is not any bitch of ours *laugh*) posted his own thoughts, gearing more toward the legality issues. Since then many folks have been talking about it.
The first real story I ever wrote was a fanfiction with the characters of The Wild Wild West. No one called it fanfiction back then and I showed it to no one. I wrote it for my own entertainment, tucked it away in my desk drawer and didn’t think about it again until I was cleaning up my room to move out of my parents’ house and found the pages. So yes, I understand the draw of writing stories with characters one loves, even if those characters belong to someone else.
Flash forward a couple of decades, but prior to my own publication. I joined a group of people who were trying to write a shared world story. We were doing this online, not for a publisher. It was just for fun. And at first, it was great fun. The originator created a scenario. Each of us chose a character, fleshed him out and started working. The rule was that while we could include all the other characters in our own stories, no one could radically change another writer’s character without that writer’s prior permission. But within two weeks, someone else had dragged my character’s story so far away from where I intended it and changed my character’s behavior so drastically, I couldn’t continue writing what had been in my mind. I quit the group, and moved on with something else, but it bothered me for a long time after. What right did the other person have to change my character? I was essentially told that my character wasn’t my own, that I had to live with what had been done because someone else thought he knew my character better than I did. At that moment, I realized why some authors protested against fan fiction so vigorously.
See, here’s the thing…my characters spring from my imagination, and their stories are mine to tell. If you’re so sure Shadd and McAvery should have sailed off into the sunset together, I can’t help you. That wasn’t what I wanted to happen. Folks say they’re writing fanfiction because they hold the author in such high esteem. Some authors are thrilled to death with that, and I’m happy if they are. But to other authors, it feels like the fanfiction writers are telling everyone they think the author blew it. That’s not flattering at all.
I’m not insisting people should stop. Shucks, I have friends who love fanfiction and write it on a regular basis, so who am I to make a pronouncement like that? There’s really not a thing I can do if someone wants to write fanfiction and post it on the Internet to share. As far as I know, no one has written anything with my characters (and please, PLEASE, don’t tell me if they have. I truly don’t want to know.) Is it legal? Heck if I could tell you. Are my characters considered fair use? I wouldn’t say so, but there are arguments in both directions. I can’t solve the big picture, and I’m not going to try. All I can say is that if you really like my work, and my characters, please don’t hurt my feelings by telling the world I got it all wrong. Instead, blow me away with something you created, out of whole cloth. Tell the world you wrote your book because you were inspired by my (or any author’s) work, but write your own story.
To me, that’s flattering.