The Sincerest Form of Flattery?

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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.

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27 comments to The Sincerest Form of Flattery?

  • Fascinating stuff, Misty. I confess I hadn’t thought much about it (never having written fan fiction myself) but I find Martin’s arguments compelling.

  • Put me down for the same request. I have never really liked the idea of fanfic. I understand the draw; I can see where some who write it might think of it as an homage to writers whose work they love. But like you, Misty, I am uncomfortable with the very idea of it. Jaryd and Alayna, Grinsa and Tavis, Besh and Lici — they are my creations, and yes, I feel a certain proprietary protectiveness of their futures and their pasts. If others have a story to tell, they should tell that story, using their own worlds and characters. Inspiration is one thing; to me, fanfic is an intrusion.

  • I’ve read quite a bit of the Diana Galbadon and GRRM posts. Very interesting agruments on both sides. GRRM stated years ago he hated fanfic, and said writers needed to create their own worlds in order to really learn the craft. I knew a few people who started off writing fanfic, grew bored and eventually wrote their own stuff.

    That does not seem to be such a bad thing, as long as the person isn’t making money from it, or hurting the author’s ability to derive income from their own works.

    Anyway, John Scalzi also posted on this topic: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/05/05/author-pokes-fanfic-hive-film-at-11/ ,and provided a few other links like his own personal policy on fanfic here: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2007/05/25/my-policy-on-fanfic-and-other-adaptations-of-my-work/

  • Misty and David, make sure you have statements to that effect on your website! You’ll find the majority of fans will abide by it, and also it will make it easier for the big fic websites to know whether or not to not allow stories to be posted for your works.

    I 100% support the right of authors to say yay or nay, and to use the good old cease & desist on websites that post it. Bar editing for a couple of IRL friends who write World of Warcraft*, I stay away from the stuff as I much prefer something fresh and original. I’ve even refused to edit for the same friends when they tried to get me to read something in a book fandom. As David says, inspiration rather than imitation! I couldn’t read stories about Kestrel written by anyone but Misty as I _know_ Kestrel in the way Misty wrote her.

    However, DG’s post wound me up. Does she have a right to stop people as best she can from writing fan fiction about her characters? Yes! Was it entirely necessary for her to accuse _all_ fan fiction writers of being on par with perverts? I think not. Especially when there are fandoms where the creators are happy to have people play in their sandbox – seriously, who is DG to say Jo Rowling is wrong? DG handled the whole thing appallingly badly, and in a particularly arrogant way (her attempt at an apology was rather amusing) and I fear she is now down in fandom annals alongside good old Anne Rice. She also came across as particularly nutty about her characters, and I do think we writers need to remember as much as we love them – they are still figments of our imagination and to have others abuse them is not the same at all as sexual slavery!

    Cheers
    Anna

    *I see WoW as outside the debate as Blizzard actively encourage fan activities within their universe, and also the known characters aren’t fully fleshed out beings the way Kestrel is. Again, who is DG to say my friends are immoral when Blizzard has said they are welcome to do this? Doesn’t Blizzard have more say over their world than she does? I think that is what bothered me most!

  • Though I’ve talked to fanfic writers, I still don’t get the appeal. Maybe that’s one reason why I’m a writer in addition to being a reader. I love reading other people’s stories, but when I write, I want to write a new story of my own. It never occurred to me to write in somebody else’s universe. The closest I can relate to it was being a kid and playing Star Wars with my friends. I’d be Han or Vader and we’d break out the flashlights for our lightsaber battles. So what that Han never wielded a lightsaber — I was just a kid, I did it the way I wanted to. But that was playacting and was nothing but fun. Writing takes a lot of effort. Why would anybody want to work that hard on something that isn’t even their own? Like I said, I don’t get it. Maybe I’m just clueless when it comes to this.

  • Oh, and a hundred cheers to this: ” 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”

    I think next time I’m in a to-fic or not-to-fic discussion I’m going to bring this up as a huge point in favour of the not-to-fic!

  • Sarah

    Thanks Misty! I generally don’t object to the idea of fanfic – I don’t write it myself, but I tend to think of it as a more concrete form of the extended fantasies of my childhood where every new character was a new imaginary friend. Except now that I’m trying to be a writer, I place that pleasant, and, I think, harmless, memory against the violent objections I have to someone telling me to rewrite my character. I stopped telling my mother about story ideas several years ago because her enthusiasm always lead in the direction of making the characters more moral, more Christian, more uplifting. I don’t object to Christian writing – I’m a Christian myself. But my characters are not puppets on which to impose anyone’s ideas of what should happen. They have to be real people with real lives. That’s why I love them.

    Dorothy Sayers said a very similar thing in The Mind of the Maker. Apparently she was furiously angry every time someone suggested that she must “save” her character Peter Wimsey – she was a devout Christian herself, but she believed in the freedom of the will and that extended to her most enduring character. If he wasn’t free to have moral or spiritual failings then he wasn’t a real person. She argued that even she herself had no right to impose feelings or behaviour on Peter that didn’t fit his character. To do so would be to kill him, turn him into a puppet, not a person. I think that’s the real potential problem with fanfic – it has the potential not to be a loving tribute to another author’s world, but to use their characters as puppets for our own private desires and fantasies. (Though please note I said potential – I have read a piece of fanfic that I think was a loving tribute, not a kind of character theft.)

  • The whole fanfic things I find complicated. I’ve read very little of it, and what I have read is Harry Potter fanfic by a woman I know. Frankly, some of her stories were beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. She has no interest in creating her own world and does fanfic as an escape with characters she loves. She also has no intention to publish. I think she’s fine for a couple reasons 1). I don’t think Rowling minds and 2). Rowling has said she’s done with the series (so the Marion Zimmer Bradly example from GRRM’s blog doesn’t apply).

    That being said, I’ve never written fanfic, and don’t think I want to. When I work with a coauthor, she and I occasionally get *cough* testy with each other when we feel like the characters or story or whatever are going in a way one of use doesn’t want it to go. And we made them up *together*

    However, I’m a medievalist. I study the stuff made WAY before the idea of copyright even existed. So, Chretien made up stories about Arthur and his knights. And wowee did people ever rip him off! And we’ve got the PearlPoet (or Gawain Poet, depending on your side of the pond) and Mallory and countless others to prove it. And lots of them are WONDERFUL. Amazing, even. To think, they wouldn’t have been written if people hadn’t taken them and ran with them. Why? Mostly because they were popular at the time. Early fanfic? Possibly.

    Shakespeare frequently gets accused of “not having original stories” and some critics are forever looking for the “uber Hamlet.” MacBeth was a well known historical story at the time. And is “10 Things I Hate About You” fanfic of a sort?

    Then again, Cervantes KILLED Don Quixote to stop “fanfic” writers from stealing him and making him do stuff (and making money off it, too) before the days of copyright.

    *sighs* It is a big question for me. All I can say, though, is that if I suddenly found a fanfic of two of my characters having very out-of-character sex with each other, well, I’d be myffed. To say the least.

    (and as a brief aside, I think that the fact that a lot of fanfic does involve sex scenes does say something about how it might fall into the “inappropriate” category. I don’t want or need to read about how Harry and Ginny lost their virginities together, or how Harry and Ron did, thanks.)

    Aside from the “I, the author, was writing a story that I saw come up in fanfic, and now I have a huge leagal issue” legality, I don’t see a legal problem with it.

    The other thing is, as some of my above example suggest, where do we draw the line between “fanfic” and “inspriation from”? That is, if I’m inspired by Hamlet, and I end up writing “The Lion King” do I owe Shakespeare? Does every “bicker until they see they’re meant for each other” romance owe “Much Ado About Nothing”? If I read and loved Laurel K. Hamilton, and I write about vampires and strip clubs, am I too close?

    And I remember people posting here about “what happens when the name you LOVE for your character shows up in someone else’s extremely high profie and popular work?” question.

    I think most of the time when people write fanfic it is people letting their imaginations run free in a world that they loved. Maybe they just want to posit a “what if it ended this way…” Or maybe they don’t have time, or aren’t creative enough, or aren’t interested in making up worlds of their own, and so they write fanfic instead. I get that. But I also get how authors may not like it or want it.

    And, fwiw, I see a VAST difference between Misty writing her fanfic as early writing, and Stuart changing Han Solo so he gets a light saber and the pages and pages of fanfic that adults consciously write and show off. Also, there’s the ficitonal “Finding Forrester” in which a novelist gives a kid the opening lines to one of his short stories as inspiration for the kid. Kid writes a great short story, then called for plagiarism when, unbeknownst to the author, he submits it in a class. All works out happily, of course, but it is an interesting conflict.

    I give my college kids an assignment where I ask them to choose something we’ve read, a poem, play, or story, and rewrite it in a different genre (full disclosure, I got the assignment from a colleague of mine). The basics must stay the same, but setting, gender, style, etc. can change. It gives them a chance to see how different genres require different things. I guess it is a kind of fanfic, too. Then they write an analysis of what they wrote, explaining why they made the choices they made. Good for a first “intro to lit” assignment. Sometimes I suggest they submit them to our literary magazine (of course, there is no payment for publication…)

    So I guess fanfic can have a good place in our culture, too.

  • annabanana said Was it entirely necessary for her to accuse _all_ fan fiction writers of being on par with perverts? I think not.

    That’s a good point. I imagine DG has run into an awful lot of slash with her characters and it’s just gotten under her skin. I can understand that frustration, but she probably could have taken a deep breath and come up with a more polite way of expressing it. 😀

    BTW, Anna, your username is my pet name for my baby niece!

    Stuart said, I still don’t get the appeal…when I write, I want to write a new story of my own.

    I know when I wrote my Wild Wild West story it was purely because I was in goo-goo-eyed-lurve with James West. *grin* Nowadays I fall similarly in love with my own characters, so that works nicely for me. But one of my favorite people in the world spent every evening writing pages and pages of fic, in partnership with other writers and by herself. It appeals to some folks. Hey, some people juggle geese.

  • Misty, I’ve been asked about fanfic, and my take on it is slightly different from yours, not that I disagree, but that I’m writing a role playing game based on the Rogue Mage books (and have been for 4 years + -, with two other writers). With that RPG in the works, I must assume that others will imagine in my world – and if they imagine, then possibly fanfic will follow. As a literary people, writing down our imaginings is less than a breath away. As e-people, publishing such fanfic is even easier.

    What I am hoping is that RPG players and potential fanfickers (which sounds perfectly dreadful) will take other characters the writers and I have created for the RPG and turn all that wonderful imagination upon them. And maybe leave Thorn St. Croix and her pals alone. But if they don’t and if they *publish* the stories to the web, I too will pretend not to know, and beg not to be told. I have no desire to hire lawyers and play on the legal field.

  • It’s one big headache, that’s what. Every time I think I know what I believe, I hear an argument trying to sway me the other way.

    I had about six paragraphs going over everything — the sticky legal issues; the fact that not everyone who writes fanfiction is someone who eventually wants to be a published author; the fact that even within the same subgenre (e.g. fanfiction porn), reasons differ (some could be writing it for sexual purposes, and some could be writing it as a form of art therapy, to deal with their own issues); the fact that it bothers me on some level, yet if there’s fanfic out there about my stuff, it means I’ve reached a certain amount of popularity; the fact that fanfic is one way to gain more readers, and if you alienate those readers by speaking out against fanfic, you could subsequently lose them; the fact that there’s an Organization For Transfomative Works vehemently defending fanfic; and the question of whether or not, once we’ve put characters and worlds out in public, we have any right to say what people do with them for fun. But no matter what I wrote, I just wanted to delete it after because there *isn’t* a definitive answer. It’s a morally gray area at best, one in which the emotions and self-esteem of millions of people are entangled.

    I know people who write fanfic, and each of them writes it for a different reason. I’ve got my own stories to deal with, so I don’t have time to write it, and frankly, I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I don’t like the feeling of playing with another person’s toys without their permission.

    I think it will take a legal battle, where an author sues a fanfic writer for emotional damages, to even begin to settle this. Fanfic scares me on a legal level, because what if one day, I succumbed to morbid temptation and read something, and the the writer sued me for stealing their ideas that had been formed based on *my* work?

    Like I said, a headache. A big one.

  • Sarah said, I stopped telling my mother about story ideas several years ago because her enthusiasm always lead in the direction of making the characters more moral, more Christian, more uplifting.

    *laughs* I have a friend who does something similar. Not necessarily more Christian, but my friend starts telling me what I should be writing. Drives me a little crazy.

  • kmcelhinny

    This is an interesting topic Misty! I’ve never really given much thought to fanfiction. When I was six I saw Bambi for the first time and wrote what would happen when he grew up. (I was a *very* dark child, that’s all I will say) But I’ve never written anything else about any other made character’s since.

    I do have to say that I have read some of the Star Trek novels and I’ve also more than enjoyed Frank Beddor’s LOOKING GLASS trilogy. (He’s seriously an amazing talent). But I can see both sides of your argument. And I’m not sure how I would feel if it happened to my characters (I’m pretty certain I would feel the same as you do).

    I have to say while I do enjoy it, it probably should be done with a person’s permission. On the other hand, can we silence the character’s that start speaking to us? Will that squelch creative imagination?

    LOL… you’ve torn me Misty!! 😀 But given me much to ponder. Sorry you have the icky feelings for what happened to your characters. Thanks for the thinking food.

    have a great day, happy writing
    Hinny

  • Pea Faerie said, I think most of the time when people write fanfic it is people letting their imaginations run free in a world that they loved. Maybe they just want to posit a “what if it ended this way…”

    I can dig that, I really can. That’s part of what makes the argument so complicated. There are lots and lots of people who do write fanfiction out of their love and respect of the author’s creation. Fanfiction is a terrific writing exercise, and a wonderful escape. All your examples are good expressions of how fanfic can be a wonderful part of modern literary culture.

    Faith said, With that RPG in the works, I must assume that others will imagine in my world…What I am hoping is that RPG players and potential fanfickers (which sounds perfectly dreadful) will take other characters the writers and I have created for the RPG and turn all that wonderful imagination upon them.

    There’s a group in upstate North Carolina who started playing a D&D campaign based on the world in my book. I was consulted every time they needed to have Kestrel drop in for any reason (quite a lot at the beginning, since they’d set up that Kestrel ran a fleet of pirate ships) but very soon the players branched off and stopped needing her to come around. 😀

  • Moira said It’s one big headache, that’s what…Fanfic scares me on a legal level, because what if one day, I succumbed to morbid temptation and read something, and the the writer sued me for stealing their ideas that had been formed based on *my* work?

    No kidding! I was nervous about hitting the post button all afternoon! It can be such a hot button topic, and I really didn’t want to end up with arguments. And the legalities are so very knotty. That’s one of the reasons I posted on my site that I won’t read anyone else’s unpublished work. But how do you prove you didn’t read someone’s fanfiction online? *sigh* Scary, very scary.

    Hinny, I loved the Looking Glass trilogy too! I don’t think it, or any other published works that are derivative of a television show or earlier novel are quite the same as fan fiction, since someone with the legal right to do so gave permission for them to be written and sold. Maybe that’s part of what complicates things for people – they see those books and assume the writer just sat down and wrote it one day.

    I’m sorry I tore you! I have a needle and thread here… 😀

  • >>I’m sorry I tore you! I have a needle and thread here…

    And she knows how to use them too!

  • I don’t think this will ever be put to bed. People seem to be passionate about the extremes. As far as I am concerned, I think if someone wants to write fan fiction with my characters they can go ahead, just keep it in that drawer.

    I have a friend who started writing fan fiction then moved to writing her own fiction, so it’s a good proving ground for writers.

  • Misty, the posts have been removed from Diana’s blog, but you can find copies of the full texts here.

    I’ll cop to having written fanfiction. I can completely sympathize with many of the reasons people have for doing it. Love of the world/characters, “But what if this had happened?”, etc. I even had two hundred pages of fanfic up on ff.net(fanfiction.net). (It has since been removed.)

    I think it did help me grow as a writer, even if only by providing motivation to keep going. The fanfic community and the responses and encouragements it provides are very motivating. I think I released about a chapter a week for 14 weeks when I was writing that story. I collaborated on it with another person I met on a fansite, and the OCs(original characters) were contributed by about 5 different people including me and my friend due to a failed rpg. There’s just no community like that for original fiction. Doesn’t exist. And the community has rules and etiquette, and it’s pretty tightly knit–it sticks together. For myself, I stuck pretty closely to canon or fanon, and I didn’t really approve of slash or lemon writers, especially since most of them broke canon.

    But when I started writing original fiction, and when I thought about how I would feel about fanfic around my own work, I experienced a major sense of cognitive dissonance. I felt that allowing people to write fanfic about my stuff (if and when it ever got published) would make me very uncomfortable. After all, when I write, I consider every alternative and how it might turn out–a skill ironically developed from fanfic and similar mental exercises–and so I agonize over the decisions that result in whatever plot/storyline I decide on for the story. I know how the story should go, and it would tick me off if someone were to say I was wrong.

    Yet, there are many stories I like that I feel are far from perfect, and I feel like the original creator could have made better choices. I no longer write fanfiction, but I greatly enjoy running through these possibilities in my head after finishing a book series. I don’t think there’s a story I’ve read where I haven’t created my own version of it in my head for fun. So it’s rather hypocritical for me to come down on anyone else for doing so. And I think that’s what makes this such a tough topic to talk about. Every time I read an opinion, I find myself swithcing sides again.

    The basic premise behind fanfiction is a cultural value that humans have had for a very long time. Working through a story like that is something I think is very valuable in understanding and enjoying a story. And people talk about it in many ways besides fanfiction, but I think all these methods are equally valid. What better way to show someone else what you think could have been done differently than to write it out and make it available to be read? This cultural aspect has pretty much determined how I define a good story. If an author can create a story where I just can’t put together a viable alternative, or at least not one I’d consider superior to the original, I mark that down as a good story and look out for more work from that author. If I can develop a viable alternative, then I conclude that the author is good, but they have more room for improvement. As a writer, I find that process invalube for suggesting ways to improve my own work. To be able to say why I find my version superior or inferior teaches me a lot about good story-telling.

    I don’t read other people’s fanfiction for fun, and I never really have. And I can’t say how someone fanficcing my own material would affect me until it happens. But to say that fanfic is bad, and you should never write it, and it’s insulting to the author just seems to me like taking things a little too far. After all, once your copyright runs out, and “fanfiction” about your work becomes essentially legal, you can’t really defend such an attitude. There are so many remakes, rewrites, and reinterpretations of public domain works that are loved and admired, that you can’t argue fanfiction as a premise is bad outside of a semi-legal framework.

    To be honest, I think the only real discussion you can have here is whether fanfic should be posted publicly on the web, and the legality underlying that debate.

  • Atsiko said, But to say that fanfic is bad, and you should never write it, and it’s insulting to the author just seems to me like taking things a little too far.

    Whew! Good thing I didn’t say it was bad, or that no one should ever write it! That’s not within my power to declare. I said it wasn’t flattering to me.

    While no one (as far as I know, and repeating here that I like not knowing) has ficced any of my published characters yet, I still know exactly how it felt to have someone take a character I created and change it to suit himself. It felt bad. It hurt my feelings and it ruined the plans I had for the story. I was insulted and unhappy.

    I’m not at all interested in the legalities. I leave that to the lawyers. I was talking about my feelings. I’m the only expert in those.

  • Atsiko said
    >> After all, once your copyright runs out, and “fanfiction” about your work becomes essentially legal, you can’t really defend such an attitude.

    Misty was not defending that, which a careful re-read of her post will attest. Perhaps you were meaning some other writer? I hope the issue about fanfic will remain polite at MW and not degrade into pointless insults and accusations.

    As to copyrights, actually a writer *can* defend specific copyright for :

    For works published after 1977, the copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. However, if the work is a work for hire (that is, the work is done in the course of employment or has been specifically commissioned) or is published anonymously or under a pseudonym, the copyright lasts between 95 and 120 years, depending on the date the work is published.

    http://fairuse.stanford.edu/Copyright_and_Fair_Use_Overview/chapter0/0-a.html

    The same site also specifies which *ideas* (worlds and characters, one might suppose) are copyright-able — and which are not. Good reading.

  • Faith, regarding this passage of the Copyright information you posted:

    >>is published anonymously or under a pseudonym, the copyright lasts between 95 and 120 years, depending on the date the work is published.

    Does that mean that because you publish under different names based upon genre that your books have different Copyright timelines attached to them?

    Or does the above refer to pseudonym in a different manner?

  • CE, maybe the 95-120 year timeline for pseudonymously published work is designed off an average of “author’s life plus 70 years”.

    I don’t really know – just guessing.

  • CE, that was the thought I had. But I am no lawyer.

  • I haven’t really written fanfic before–that I can remember–but if I ended up doing so, it would probably be from the setting, not the characters. For one, I just like thinking up my own characters and for another, I kinda think of the characters as a bit more sacred and sorta devoted to one author. I can’t presume to write them any better or even with the same mentality as the original author did. The world/setting is far easier to keep fairly true to the original. As I wouldn’t presume to write stories about Thorn or Audric or Rupert from Faiths RM world, for example–or even the ancillary characters–I might be tempted to write about another character somewhere else in that setting. And that sort of goes along with that whole RPG thing as well.

    I can see the draw to doing fanfic, especially if the series is done and no more will be made. Better to write your own tales about your favorite characters than to see the characters fade away. However, I can also see the irritation of authors who are very attached and intimate (I guess I’ll use that word) with their characters. If my characters are ever depicted doing things they’d never really do just to satisfy some fan’s odd fantasies it might get me a little irked. After all, who knows better than I what my characters will and won’t do? They are a part of me. And I can also see the issue of a series that isn’t finished yet. Ideas can be very similar between two people (I know it’s happened to me a number of times) and humans tend to be a slightly vain lot. A fan seeing an idea in the next book that’s very similar to their fanfic, even if the author never even read the fanfic, might feel honored that it was used, or might feel angered that the idea was used without asking them, even though it was never their sandbox to play in to begin with. I likely wouldn’t read fanfic based on my stuff as well for that reason, but really, how can you prove you didn’t read it?

    I think if, as a published author, I was to tell people it was okay, I might create some ground rules. Not that everyone would follow them, but it would be a start. You can play in my sandbox, but bring your own toys.

    Though a thought just hit me about a writing exercise I saw once. It was from Star Wars, but it was a contest of sorts. They picked a scene of a crowd at the pod races in episode 1 and picked one unknown extra out of the scene and wanted people to write a scene based on that character, who they were, why they were there, things like that. And I’ve often had characters that pop up for maybe one scene in novels I’ve read that I found myself wanting to know more about. That would be an interesting fanfic exercise, to take an extra and flesh him/her out, maybe find out what led them to be where they were in the scene, maybe find out what happened to them afterward (unless they were a red-shirt, then we all know what happened to them…”Over here, I think I found something! YEEAARGH!”). 😉

  • Beatriz

    Jumping in late (as usual).

    Misty says Hey, some people juggle geese.

    I promptly fell out of my chair when I read this! Thanks. Now my co-workers are staring at me. Thanks.

    I’ve never been bitten by the fan-fic bug, although I will admit that I’d love to buy my favorite author a drink and have him tell me what happened after the book finished. The characters are his and while I love them there’s no way in the world I could make up a story that would satisfy me about what happened to Stuart, Frannie and the rest.

  • dougyd

    Fan fiction as flattery? Fan fiction as theft? As stated by several authors, the choice is theirs. Let me try arguing both sides and end up somewhere in the middle.
    First, on the pro side of fan fiction, is the idea that fans have the right to develop stories and present those stories to others. Notice I said present, not sale. Sometimes when reading a book, or series of books, the reader becomes very involved with the characters they encounter in it. When the author plots out a story, they have ideas of where they want the story to go. When a reader reads that story, they do the same. The drive behind fan fiction is that the reader sometimes wants the story to go differently than the author and wants to have a say so in what the characters they have mentaly attached themselves to do.
    Another driving force behind fan fiction is the period of time between books in a series or between seperate books involving the same characters. We all know that a good reader can finish a book in a day or two. We also know that it takes alot longer to write a book and see it through the publishing process than it takes to read it many times. During the time this takes, the fans of a writer feel the need to know what happens next. This need leads some to fill in the gap with works based on their favorite authors characters and worlds. They take the characters and settings they have come to love or hate and have them play out story lines of the fans creation. This lets them feel like they have some say so in how the characters develop and the story progresses.
    Now for the anti-fan fiction arguments. When a writer sits down to begin a story, they have to face the monster known as the blank page. If you don’t create it, it doesn’t happen. Through skill,talent, and hard work, they begin to create a world. Then they populate that world with characters. They have to rely on their imaginations and life experiences to flesh out both world and characters. All of this comes from them. Like anything else that a person creates, they feel that they own it. If you create a solid object like a car or a boat from your own hands no one would question that you own it. But if you create an idea or a figment of imagination though, the area becomes more grey.
    To the writer, there is no difference between what another creates with their hands and what they themselves create with their minds. Both take work, skill, and time. If you create a boat with your hands, you expect to control who can use that boat and how it is used by them. Same with an author. If they created a world or set of characters, they expect to be able to decide who can use them and how they are used. They see any other way as theft of something they own.
    Now for the middle. Both sides has valid points and both have in some cases acted like no one else matters but themselves. Personaly, I fall towards the side of the original writers. I say this because I have faced that blank page monster and have so far been eaten by it. I have won a few minor battles with it but have yet to win the war. As such, I can fully understand the effort put into the creation of works of fiction. I also understand the draw of being able to skip the first two steps of writing and getting on to the act of having characters relate to each other and the world they exist in. The problem with doing this is that you are taking something someone else created and using it as if it were yours to do with as you wish. Even if you are trying to stay true to the characters you are using, you can’t have them interact with each other without having them change because of it. With enough writers doing this, the characters become other than what their creater want them to be. Some will say that what they do has no effect on the original creations and that they have the right to write what they want. But they forget the basic fact that the characters they want to use are what they are because of what they have read. By others reading what they have written, they are effecting how those people see the characters as well. Repeat this a few times, and by the time the original author releases the next part of the story, readers will have completely different ideas of the characters than they did at the end of the authors previous work. This disrupts the feel and flow of a book series and can harm the very thing they came to love.
    As with other forms of property, the person who created it can say by who and how it can be used. If an author wishes to allow others to work with their ideas they are perfectly free to do so. If they want to maintain sole control of their creations, that is also their right. We, as readers of their works, should have enough respect for them to give them this choice. If you want to use their world or characters in a story of your own, ask them or at least check into what they have said before about others using their works. To do otherwise is like telling your neighbor that you have the right to use their property when you wish and return it to them in whatever condition you wish.

  • “I hope the issue about fanfic will remain polite at MW and not degrade into pointless insults and accusations.”

    <-I've never figured out exactly what issue led to the registration policy, but please do not suggest that I am trying to cause any sort of argument or problem. I have never made any sort of inflammatory comments on MW.

    I'd also prefer if you didn't cherrypick my comment so that certain sentences can be addressed outside of context. I understand that this is a sensitive topic for many people, but other commentors brought up issues of legality, and I don't think it was out of line to address them.

    Finally, I found your comment to me on copyright just a bit patronising, Faith. I understand how compyright works. The issue of ethics in regard to using works that have gone out of copyright is a very prominent talking point in regards to fanfic. I believe pea faerie made the original reference to this part of the discussion, in the eighth comment on this post, mentioning Shakespeare and the Arthurian legends.

    If you feel that addressing these topics was out of line, I apologize, but since previous commentors were not reprimanded, I assumed them to be valid points of discussion.