On Writers Who Are Hurt By Fanfic

Fanfic, for those who don’t know, is when fans write new works featuring copyrighted characters and settings created by another author, generally without permission of the copyright owner.1 So, for example, if I write a short story featuring Harry Potter or set on the Starship Enterprise (or featuring Harry and the Enterprise), that would be fanfic.

In the comments of Making Light, science-fiction writer Jo Walton writes:

Fanfiction can hurt writers and here’s how — sod money, money has nothing to do with it, this is a totally emotional argument.

If other people can take my characters and my universe and write their own things about them, wrong (and it’ll always be wrong, to me, because I know what wasn’t in the story and they can’t) while I’m alive and don’t want them to (dead is different, this is about the inside of my head and my creativity, which won’t be an issue when I’m dead), then I’m not safe to let my stories and my characters out there because they might be desecrated. The thought of it makes my throat close up. Just reading this here and thinking about it will probably stop me writing any more today.

If I’m not safe to publish, I won’t.

That might not hurt anyone except me, and the other writers who feel this way. There are probably quite sufficient writers who don’t feel this way that there would still be books. But there definitely wouldn’t be any more of mine.

I’m sorry that Jo Walton feels that way, and if I wrote fanfic I would definitely refrain from writing any featuring her characters or settings.

However, some writers are deterred from writing by the prospect of criticism. But I don’t think anyone would say that therefore criticism should be discouraged, or argue that this is a good reason for criticism to lack legal protection. That some writers are hurt by the prospect of reader response, in whatever form, is unfortunate, but not a reason to outlaw the response.

(Please note that for all I know, Jo Walton thinks fanfic should be fully legal and as protected as any other writings. I have no idea what her opinion on fanfic and legality is.)

Now, those who want fanfic to be illegal, but criticism to be legal, might respond that criticism serves some valuable functions, and I agree. But I don’t think criticism serves any function that fanfic doesn’t also serve, albeit in different ways.

  1. I’m sure someone out there has written a definition with fewer holes in it. []
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49 Responses to On Writers Who Are Hurt By Fanfic

  1. 1
    lilacsigil says:

    The “desecration” argument, while obviously heartfelt, really holds no water with me – if the author is so worried about her characters being harmed, why release them into the world at all? I might read her books and think her beloved heroine is an idiot, and tell all my friends about it. I might do this by word-of-mouth, or by writing a review, or writing fanfic. Is it so long since high school and the “creative response” to texts?

    Of course it’s not “safe” to publish. When you engage with a reader, it’s a two-way engagement, and they might disagree with you. Authors like Robin Hobb, who are strongly anti-fanfic, are discouraging me from reading their books, because they don’t want to have a conversation with me – they want to tell me what to think.

  2. 2
    Thene says:

    IAWTC, lilacsigil. This also seems ignorant of the history of storytelling – copyright and IP are recent innovations; what writers like Homer and Luo Guanzhong made is great literature, but if they did it today we’d call it fanfic. Were they desecrating? When medieval storytellers told traditional stories about Robin Hood, or King Arthur, or even the Christian archangels, was it fanfic? In contexts like that, desecration makes no sense.

    When did storytelling become about possessing settings and characters rather than honouring those settings and characters before the world?

    And is Walton’s emotional quandry really independent of the money/IP creative culture or does it just follow on from it after the fact?

  3. 3
    Angiportus says:

    Where does honoring end off and twisting-around-out-of-recognition begin? I guess I am still for legality of fanfic, but I think the characters’ names should be changed or something, clearly differentiating this from the original. Or just say this is fanfic right up front. If I came up with a character, I wouldn’t want someone else’s idea thereof swamping out my own. Particularly with some of the scenarios these people come up with. It wouldn’t alter my own original idea, but it might eclipse it.
    I sense a parallel perhaps with those cultures who say their religious ideas and paraphernalia have been stolen by us. It isn’t simple for either situation, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. If I ever did any fanfic, I’d be honest about who the original belongs to, if it is known.

  4. 4
    Rook says:

    Angiportus, you should be aware that fanfic writers always differentiate. It’s common practice to include a ‘disclaimer’ with stories that reads something like ‘These characters and this world are the property of Author X; I’m just borrowing them, and mean this as a respectful tribute’. Even when an explicit disclaimer isn’t included, writers who tried to claim this was original fiction and not fanfiction would be laughed off the net. As a rule, if we didn’t love the story, we wouldn’t be writing fanfic for it. (There are exceptions – for example, Neil Gaiman’s (published, paid!) story, “The Problem of Susan”, which was written to address a percieved problem within the original work – but see also “A Study in Emerald”, also fanfic by my definition, published in the same anthology, and pure tribute. Which won a Hugo.)

  5. 5
    Silenced is Foo says:

    Well, I think it’s important to remember that most fanfic isn’t about somebody’s personal literary baby. People don’t write fanfics about “Life of Pi”. They get written about Star Trek, Dragonball, Transformers, and suchlike. Harry Potter is a rare exception in that it is a single-author personal novel and not a franchised series run by a faceless corporation. I doubt that Mattel is horribly offended by fan-fics of their properties, unlike, say, Stephen King.

    Although, in the case I see described in the article is a different story – if it is a very personal property, I could see the author being hurt by the stupid, stupid crap that populates a lot of fanfic.

    @Thene – I imagine that most “historical” fanfic was written at a time when the original author was utterly unavailable to discover how the new material perverted their original vision. I doubt that John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” was perused by the men who wrote Genesis, given the thousands of years of time between them.

  6. 6
    Dianne says:

    Harry Potter is a rare exception in that it is a single-author personal novel and not a franchised series run by a faceless corporation.

    For what it’s worth, JK Rowling has said that she loves fanfic, partly because she doesn’t have the time or inclination to explore the world she invented as completely as it could be explored and therefore likes the idea of other people playing with it. I think Marion Zimmer Bradley must also have been fond of fanfic, since she published a number of stories written by others but set in her Darkover world in her anthologies. So not every author hates the idea.

    But in terms of the definition of fanfic, there may be cases that are unclear. For example, I remember a story that is basically about a woman whose teenage daughters are obsessed with Star Trek. Not a single ST character appears in the story, but it is clearly inspired by the series and couldn’t exist (at least in that form) without it. Fanfic or not?

  7. 7
    Tigerlily O'Reilly says:

    Hello, a lurker here.

    It seems important that fanfic is substantially written by women and is also pretty often sexually explicit. Fanfic is noncommercial. Fanfic generates self-policing communities which constantly debate their own terms. Fanfic has low barriers to entry–anyone can write with any degree of competency and anyone can seek out a community where she will receive useful criticism. Fanfic, in short, is pretty damn utopian. It helps people become active writers instead of just consumers. It is a mileu where women can talk explicitly about sex and desire without having to worry about all the baggage that attends those conversations in ordinary life.

    Against this, we set the idea that the writer “owns” the text, that the text is “polluted” if it is read or discussed in a way that the author does not, er, authorize. And behind this is a threat–the idea that there are “authors” and then there are, I don’t know, fake authors, bad authors, cheap authors. And if we drive out the “real” authors, then we’ll be left only with the fake bad ones. I believe this argument has been made about the music industry, where it is manifestly untrue.

    What does it mean to say “I know what was in the story and they can’t”? That sounds so odd. “The story” doesn’t exist–you can’t break through to another universe where it “really” happens.

    ****

    Where does fanfic occur? In the interstices. It’s almost impossible to imagine fanfic written about, say, Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise, or about Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, because there is a fullness to those texts…I’m not sure how to say it better than this. Fanfic is a way of thinking about what is not said, what might be said…

    To crib from and probably oversimplify Frederic Jameson (Archaeologies of the Future) one of the things science fiction does is to allow us to look sidelong–the world is too big and too fast to see directly, so to speak, so we look at it sidelong. Fanfic seems to me to be a way of looking at the world sidelong–a way to think about what is complex, hidden, unsaid…

  8. 8
    Thene says:

    SiF – I don’t think your first paragraph is true; the biggest fandoms (HP excepted) revolve around big TV/anime franchises simply because of audience share, not because the urge to fic is particularly different. I’ve done fic for both some of those large franchises and also for some single-author novels (not Life Of Pi, but I’ll cheerfully read it and fic it if you think it can’t be done); the main difference is that the latter go to a smaller audience (though due to correspondingly less competition, they often get more reader support). The main difference with novels is that a good deal of the authors are known to be anti-fanfic, some for emotional reasons, others for legal reasons – the latter don’t seek to drive it off the web, just keep acceptable legal distance from it.

    I don’t see why an author’s reaction to fic would be vastly different to a screenwriter’s, or a film director’s. I’m sure it depends far more on the individual, and on the legal advice they’ve received, and on the culture they’re used to writing within. To me talk of ‘desecration’ and ‘perversion’ sounds like you could only feel that way if you feel your inspirations should be under your sole control, rather than them being community artefacts that exist independently of you. I think it’s similar to the difference between the proponents of proprietary software and open-source. Bill Gates had the same emotional reaction as Walton when he denounced the open-source movement as ‘communist’.

    As for the original author being unavailable, I think you’re picking out individuals and ignoring communities, which in mainstream culture then, as in fandom culture now, were where the stories came from and incubated, not in the mind and pen of an individual. The Icelandic sagas, for instance, mostly still lack authorial attribution; they were written versions of oral culture and (with Snorri Sturluson as the sole exception) no individuals claimed the written versions as their own. Luo Guanzhong drew not on the works of one previous writer but on an rich oral, operatic and occasionally written tradition of myth and history. And writers today do the exact same things – writing in ways that reflect the cultures, communities and storytelling traditions they know, drawing on old myths and on ideas that already have cultural resonance – or simply on real events. ‘Owning’ such material only makes sense from the point of view of earning money (which is necessary to keep the creators alive in the world we live in, but I could wish open-source creating philosophies were more widespread).

    If author unavailability is the crucial thing, is it okay to fic things by Tolkien, or Walt Disney? Would act of ‘perverting’ be different from the point of view of the person doing the ‘perverting’? I feel like that’s a red herring in terms of how creativity works; it only makes sense in legal terms. As lilacsigil said, if the point is to protect the author’s feelings then of course it’s not “safe” to publish, or to criticise, or to converse with the author at all, so I don’t see why mortal status should affect our attitude to fanfic but not to other ways of engaging with text.

    Dianne – that was true for MZB at first but she got legally burned over it and fanfic in Darkover and her other works is now technically not meant to happen (even now she’s ‘unavailable’). She’s the prime example of why legal distance from fic is now a necessity for writers, regardless of their feelings about the culture of it.

  9. 9
    Kevin Moore says:

    If Jo Walton is so offended by fanfic, she shouldn’t read it. In fact, authors who are still creating new stories for their characters and series should probably refrain from reading fanfic regarding their work, because a) you don’t want someone else’s ideas to “pollute” your own, and b) you should protect yourself against possible charges of plagiarism.

    I don’t think the “deterrence” argument either way is really relevant, however. One the one hand, fanfic of propertied characters runs the risk of violating copyright law, so “sod the money” or not, authors and publishers should be mindful of their rights. On the other hand, fans will always find ways to connect with their favorite characters through their own adaptation of the material, so authors and publishers should extend some parameters of tolerance short of copyright violation.

    That said, I’m no lawyer, so I don’t know where the line really falls. Personally, I don’t read fanfic because it is usually badly written, boring or a disturbing glimpse into the psyche of someone with seriously unresolved issues. Granted, the latter can be a wellspring of great literature, too. In this context, however, the odds are against it.

  10. 10
    Dianne says:

    She’s the prime example of why legal distance from fic is now a necessity for writers,

    That suggests that, in the end, it is about the money (assuming that the legal “burning” was over money or copyright or some such), not about the “pervesion” of characters. Although MZB is no longer available, unless something really unexpected is occurring, she seems to have left designated literary heirs or something. At least books by MZB + XXX seem to keep coming out.

  11. 11
    mythago says:

    if the author is so worried about her characters being harmed, why release them into the world at all?

    That was kind of her point: why write if people are going to crap all over it?

  12. 12
    Mandolin says:

    People used to write about Pern, which is largely single author (and still do, in certain limited venues, with McCaffrey’s permission).

    I don’t think that fan fiction is “crapping all over” one’s original work, no matter how bad it is. Fan fiction is always an effort of affection, made with no expectation of renumeration. It represents a profound engagement with one’s work, which is immensely, in itself, flattering.

    I am sure that there could be fan fiction written with the intent to wound or mock, but then we’re not talking about the same genre anymore — then it becomes something else, likely spoof or satire even if badly done.

  13. 13
    Dianne says:

    I am sure that there could be fan fiction written with the intent to wound or mock, but then we’re not talking about the same genre anymore — then it becomes something else, likely spoof or satire even if badly done.

    IMHO, satire should be attempted only when the writer of the satire or parody has affection for the characters or world being satirized. Otherwise it becomes boring and stupid. Not that this has anything to do with the main topic. Just drifting off into side topics.

  14. 14
    mythago says:

    I don’t think that fan fiction is “crapping all over” one’s original work

    It isn’t inherently crapping. But I don’t think you’re looking at this from an author’s perspective, or at least from the perspective Jo’s talking about.

    A book, to the person who wrote it, isn’t merely a thing. The characters and the story have a life of their own; they’re almost real. And so it can be very painful when somebody else so doesn’t get it that they’ll take your work, and people and things you’ve lovingly created, jam a hand up their asses and make them into puppets for their own issues that have nothing at all to do with your intent or the work.

    I’m not saying that’s an argument for punishing fanfic writers, or that all (or even most) fanfic is like that. But I also don’t think that telling an author they’re an idiot for being upset about some of it.

  15. 15
    Mandolin says:

    “It isn’t inherently crapping. But I don’t think you’re looking at this from an author’s perspective”

    Yes, I am. I am an author. I publish professionally. I am paid to write fiction, study the writing of fiction, and teach others to write fiction. That is my entire, full-time work. I do not write fan fiction. Mine is an author’s perspective.

    And you can metaphysically indulge your characters and world all you like, they still *aren’t actually real*.

    Sorry, I’m still kind of galled that you’re lecturing me on what an author is and how an author feels.

  16. 16
    Sarahlynn says:

    I want to expound on the more serious damage that fanfic can do to authors, as alluded to above by Thene.

    Dianne is being dismissive by suggesting that it’s simply a matter of greed and/or money.

    Here’s the very brief Wikipedia article about what happened to Marion Zimmer Bradley: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marion_Zimmer_Bradley and here’s more detail: http://www.fanworks.org/writersresource/?action=define&authorid=53&tool=fanpolicy

    In short, a fan sued MZB for considering writing a novel that contained some ideas suggested by fanfic. (Good luck trying to prove that you *haven’t* read something! This is why most authors say that their lawyers tell them that they can’t read anything you send them and will return it unopened even if it’s not fanfic.) In the end, after spending a not-so-small fortune on legal fees to defend herself, Bradley was unable to publish her book – her publishers put it “on hold” to avoid the costs of going to court themselves – and she lost several years of hard work. And, of course, it’s not just the loss of years of work and revenue, but also the emotional toll of going through a long and acrimonious legal battle that could have been avoided if she hadn’t been quite so open about “sharing” the world she’d created with others.

    If I’m a writer, I have no legal obligation to split royalties and list as co-authors all those who’ve been writing stories or suggesting plots involving my characters – often just following the foreshadowing of future story arcs that I’ve put in the earlier books. Nor do I have any obligation to spend my time and money defending myself against fanfic authors’ legal demands. I’ll go one step further and suggest that even if a fan says, “Hey, you should have this happen!” and the author works that into a storyline, the author is still not obligated to split revenue with the fan. Ideas come from lots of different sources, but it’s still the author’s job to WRITE the story, and if the writing’s her own (as was indisputably the case with Bradley) then the book is her own.

    http://whoosh.org/issue62/ecks2.html#note08
    http://www.mercedeslackey.com/am_games.html

  17. 17
    mythago says:

    I’ll go one step further and suggest that even if a fan says, “Hey, you should have this happen!” and the author works that into a storyline, the author is still not obligated to split revenue with the fan.

    And never was. Ideas aren’t copyrightable; the creative expression of those ideas is. The MZB situation was a lot more complicated than ‘fanfic writer sues innocent author’, but still.

    Yes, I am. I am an author.

    Then you know how galling it is when somebody deliberately misconstrues what you’re saying, for example ignoring the explanatory clause “or at least from the perspective Jo’s talking about”. (Jo’s an author, too; isn’t it galling that anyone else, author or no, is lecturing about what *she* should feel?)

  18. 18
    Individ-ewe-al says:

    Could I just point out that later in that same thread, Jo Walton explicitly requests:

    I also don’t want to be the poster child for someone who doesn’t want fanfic, because look how polite and considerate these people are being

    It’s bad enough that people are not prepared to respect her wish not to have her characters used for fanfic. It’s bad enough that people are doing exactly what she predicted they would do and making all kinds of disparaging comments about her for expressing this wish. But even worse, this whole thread is riding completely roughshod over her expressed wish not to be the poster child for writers who dislike fanfic. I have to say, this conversation is not impressing me with the idea that the fanfic community is some kind of feminist, freedom-loving utopia.

  19. 19
    Holly says:

    The MZB story is a good example of why creators should never read fan-produced work, or at least should never acknowledge doing so. It’s true in all sorts of media, unfortunately, including television and video games, and it makes it very hard for creators to take “suggestions” in certain areas from the communites that consume their works. It would be great if there was some sort of standardized disclaimer or revocation of interest in copyrightable material, and it’s good that at least in theory, “ideas” can’t be copyrighted, but I don’t think that’s ever really been made practical.

    As for fanfic, I have to agree with whoever said “don’t read it if it upsets you.” You never know what people are going to do with anything you put out to live in the world, even if you tell them you don’t want them to. I have generally really enjoyed fan works based on my own (although I can’t tell you specifically which ones, obviously) but even if I found them upsetting, that would be my problem.

    My biggest problem with fanfic and other derivative work is that it’s become far easier to do than creating your own original characters, setting, or ideas. If you borrow someone else’s stuff, you are guaranteed more recognition and often a ready-made community of people interested in those properties. You don’t have to think of your own stuff and you’re not going to suffer the slings and arrows of people calling your material unoriginal, uninspired, or stupid, because it’s not your material. At most they’ll criticize your execution and flair and faithfulness and maybe how interesting it was. I guess that’s good in some ways (getting more people into writing, drawing, whatever) and if even 2% of derivative creators eventually move on to making their own works, it’s worthwhile as a stepping stone. And it’s probably higher than 2% in some areas (illustrators, for instance).

    But as for the other 90-98%… I kind of couldn’t care less if they were creating or not. I mean, I suppose it’s great in terms of general human development and expressiveness, I believe all children should be taught creative skills, etc. But as for enriching the world? Hrm. The new spins added by fan works (often rather predictable ones) are almost outweighed by the fact that they also continue to fill the infosphere with more and more and more endless amounts of cluttering stuff. And that’s a problem I have to think about myself even when I create a more original work. (And note that I say “more” original because I don’t think anything is ever “100%” original.)

  20. 20
    mythago says:

    My biggest problem with fanfic and other derivative work is that it’s become far easier to do than creating your own original characters, setting, or ideas.

    Hence the success of Wicked, The Red Tent, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead….

  21. 21
    Holly says:

    Yeah actually, I do think those premises were easier to develop as ideas. That doesn’t say anything about the abilities of Gregory Maguire or Tom Stoppard (or Anita Diamant, though I think I’d have to put reinterpretations of the Bible into a slightly different category) but yeah, those are less original ideas, it’s always a little easier to riff off of someone’s else’s idea, and a little easier to find an audience. Whether works are successful or not is also has little to do with what I was saying. The umpteenth sequel in a hit series may be more successful than a brilliant new book in a world nobody’s heard of before, just because of famliarity, even if it’s ghost-written or penned by the dead author’s kid… so what?

    All the works mentioned above were challenging to write and read in other ways, that’s for sure. Wicked explores character development in a way the Wizard of Oz never does, and R & G is almost an literary exercise exploring the very idea of subaltern perspective, bending back on itself repeatedly.

    But as challenging and creative as all of that may be — coming up with concepts and struggling to get unfamiliar new worlds across to readers is ALSO an important and difficult part of writing. And it’s a part that even amateur writers — since most fanfic writers are not Stoppard or Maguire or Diamant — used to struggle with a lot more before the explosion of fanfic. Maybe it’s good that they have more options to not struggle with that. But I also think struggling with that is good, and can lead to growth of exciting new ideas that take us to more newer places.

    And you know what? I almost would have rather read the ideas, characters, plot, themes of Wicked in a setting that wasn’t the Wizard of Oz. I think I might have liked it better. Obviously many people would disagree — they picked it up in part because of the connection to L. Frank Baum’s work. But I honestly don’t think it added to the strength of the story, even if it did help the marketability. I found myself asking, 3/4 of the way through the book, what does this have to do with the Wizard of Oz? Were these particular symbols that powerful or useful to use as ready-mades? Why?

  22. 22
    Dianne says:

    The MZB story is a good example of why creators should never read fan-produced work, or at least should never acknowledge doing so.

    Which is hard to do when you’re also the editor of several SF/F magazines and regularly publish anthologies, including anthologies of fanfic set in your world, as MZB was and did. I don’t know anything about her situation except what I’ve read in the links provided, but I have several anthologies edited by Bradley, containing stories from the Darkover world not written by her, but included in the anthologies, from which she, presumably, got royalties. She made money off of fanfic, exploited new writers, and then threw a tantrum the first time it didn’t turn out in her favor. I can’t say I’m entirely sympathetic to her position. But I do wish they’d go ahead and publish the book behind the controversy now that she’s dead and the point is moot.

  23. 23
    Holly says:

    Yeah, it’s worth noting that MZB actively admitted to reading and using and profiting off of fan-generated ideas, which is why there was no way she could deny that an idea she wanted to use was not really her own. She was an extreme case. But seriously, there are frivolous lawsuits all the time, mostly sent to big targets like corporations, by people who claim that they had the same idea that appeared on a television show / was made into a video game / turned into a kids’ toy / you name it. I’ve seen stacks of letters claiming that people’s ideas were mailed to the company, therefore someone must have opened and read it, therefore the company owes them credit and royalties, etc. Really, the only way to defend against this (in the rare case that it’s not just an empty threat) is to say look, we don’t let any of the people who come up with ideas read any of those letters, in fact we don’t really read them at all if they have ideas like that in them. And many companies are quite strict about not allowing people responsible for coming up with ideas to read fan message boards etc, for that reason.

  24. 24
    mythago says:

    But I also think struggling with that is good, and can lead to growth of exciting new ideas that take us to more newer places.

    Agreed, but I don’t think that fanfic is really that new a phenomenon (though fanfic communities may be).

    Individ-ewe-al, I hope nobody is holding up Jo as some kind of icon; she’s *an* author with a particular view, and she’s certainly not of the “all fanfic is evil and I will SUE YOUR ASSES” mold. I just don’t understand the “STFU and don’t read it” reaction to her description of how she feels about fanfic. She didn’t issue a ringing call for legal action.

  25. 25
    Holly says:

    Agreed, but I don’t think that fanfic is really that new a phenomenon (though fanfic communities may be).

    Agreed, what I really mean is “the explosion of fanfic facilitated by the growth of the internet, which lets a whole lot more people get involved on a more frequent and rapid basis.”

  26. 26
    Lydia says:

    Regarding the first of the links Sarahlynn posted above about the MZB situation:

    Michaela Ecks, aka Laura Hale, aka partly_bouncy and purplepopple and probably a few other things, is not a reliable source. She is notorious in certain segments of fandom for her shoddy scholarship. Her stated philosophy is that she would rather put some information, *any* information, out there — even if it’s wrong — than no information at all. She blithely assumes that if the information is wrong, someone will come along and correct it, and doesn’t seem to realize that corrections virtually never get spread as widely as the original misinformation.

  27. 27
    Kevin Moore says:

    But even worse, this whole thread is riding completely roughshod over her expressed wish not to be the poster child for writers who dislike fanfic. I have to say, this conversation is not impressing me with the idea that the fanfic community is some kind of feminist, freedom-loving utopia.

    So…we shouldn’t respond to her argument? Whether or not one agrees with her, she has expressed an opinion in the public forum; whether she wants it or not, the public will respond. And how is Barry’s post or the discussion it has inspired contrary to a “feminist, freedom-loving utopia”?

  28. 28
    Ampersand says:

    Individ-ewe-al, I don’t think I read that comment by her before I wrote this post. (I frequently don’t read every comment in a comment thread, and iirc the thread in question was fairly long). If I had read it, maybe I wouldn’t have written this post, or maybe I would have searched around for another example.

    However, although I certainly wouldn’t want to use her as “an icon,” I don’t think that someone who makes a statement in public — especially a statement regarding a very controversial issue — can reasonably expect other people to refrain from commenting on her statement to disagree. I don’t think that Ms. Walton had any such expectation; but you seem to have such an expectation, and I disagree with you on that one.

  29. 29
    Angiportus says:

    It’s been a while since I read much fanfic, so I must have forgotten about the disclaimers and so on. I seem to recall that not all included this, or any sort of rating system for the unaware; when one is googling references to a Venezuelan mountain, one might not expect, in a fiction story set there, to run headlong into a description of father-son incest. I still like the 1st Amendment, so I figured I’d just not read the stuff, unless it was Lovecraftian, of course. Anyway, I see the situation is even more tangly than I suspected.

  30. 30
    Thene says:

    Holly:

    If you borrow someone else’s stuff, you are guaranteed more recognition and often a ready-made community of people interested in those properties. You don’t have to think of your own stuff and you’re not going to suffer the slings and arrows of people calling your material unoriginal, uninspired, or stupid, because it’s not your material. At most they’ll criticize your execution and flair and faithfulness and maybe how interesting it was. I guess that’s good in some ways (getting more people into writing, drawing, whatever) and if even 2% of derivative creators eventually move on to making their own works, it’s worthwhile as a stepping stone. And it’s probably higher than 2% in some areas (illustrators, for instance).

    I disagree. Fanfic writing doesn’t and can’t guarantee more recognition than original writing; what it guarantees is membership of a community of communicators. If you’re half-decent you’ll get a small amount of instant feedback. But you’ll be confined to your tiny pool, and no one outside that pool will ever have access to what you’ve done (or care). Writing original stuff is the only way to gain a wide audience.

    As for the 2% – I think most fan-creators also make their own stuff (I know a mere handful who don’t), but very little of that stuff will even be submitted for publication away from the internet. People who write or draw as a hobby have always existed; fandom just gives them a way to be communal about it, often while they keep working on their non-fandom projects. Is writing for a fanfic community inherently less good than writing original stuff for just yourself? And why is getting more people into writing or drawing inherently good from your POV, rather than just being a moral neutral?

    But as challenging and creative as all of that may be — coming up with concepts and struggling to get unfamiliar new worlds across to readers is ALSO an important and difficult part of writing.

    How many published authors do that? Don’t most write about real or real-based locations rather than imaginary ones? Don’t most of them explore existing cultural niches rather than carving out new ones? How many of them base characters on real people they’ve known, or on parts of themself? There’s assuredly a difference there, because everyone knows what a fanfic is and what an original fic is, but I don’t think it’s a hard line in the sand. There’s a cultural spectrum here rather than a simple divide between originals and fanworks; we’ve already been talking about Wicked; and we don’t say that films or TV series based on books or comics are unacceptable (the sole difference there being that someone has paid someone else for the right to make that film/TV adaptation, and not even that in the case of the Sweeney Todd or Pride & Prejudice films). Meanwhile fandom works dot all over the landscape – not all fanwriters are Cassandra Clare, and many do things that are as tenuously connected to someone else’s canon as Wicked is. (I’m thinking of Bridlewood Manor as much as anything – over 600,000 words of AU in a historical setting, with decreasingly little connection to the anime it’s supposedly a fic of, written for an audience of mere dozens). Such things are fandom because they’re part of a community – a culture, even – of other fanfics and the people who read and write them. Wicked is not part of fandom, for the exact same reason. But it is fanfic.

  31. 31
    Holly says:

    Fanfic writing doesn’t and can’t guarantee more recognition than original writing; what it guarantees is membership of a community of communicators.

    My point is not that fanfic is somehow going to gain you a huge audience. It’s that fanfic is more instantly gratifying, because you will get more recognition to start out with than if you were producing original works. No, you’re not going to hit the bigtime with fanfic (and in fact you’d probably encounter a lawsuit if you did) but at the tiny beginning level, it’s much easier to get some attention, some cheers, some excitement from readers, if you are borrowing characters and settings they’re already attached to. If you’re using your own stuff that nobody’s ever heard before, you have to work much harder to sell it, rely more on word of mouth — and with more readers engaged in consuming fanfic as opposed to original work (and reading time is certainly a scarce resource) there are fewer people to spread that word of mouth.

    The community of communicators is great to some degree. It’s also limiting. There are probably writers out there who have more potential than writing fanfic, who don’t take the risk of really trying to push their own original ideas because they’re getting some level of audience gratification via borrowing others’ characters. To me that’s a loss. It’s nice that they have a small safer pool to swim around in, but the world is a little bit poorer. Or in other words, what you said:

    But you’ll be confined to your tiny pool, and no one outside that pool will ever have access to what you’ve done (or care).

    A lot of people create not only for themselves, but for some kind of audience. If you can get positive audience feedback on your work by giving them what they want… and what they want is more of the same characters in some predictable permutations (slash pairings, alternate timelines, etc) then that’s an easy way to get your audience fix. You never have to push yourself.

    And why is getting more people into writing or drawing inherently good from your POV, rather than just being a moral neutral?

    Aside from the fact that I think creativity is good for people’s psychological and emotional well-being, I also think there’s a positive value in expanding and evolving the kinds of stories we tell, what we tell them about, how we tell them, etc. I really do believe that’s an inherent good — creating new things that haven’t been explored before, even though as we’ve both already pointed out, there’s nothing that’s 100% new. A lot of fanfic, however, is utterly un-new.

    Of course all creative work is derived from something — reality, history, other stories, etc. But:

    There’s assuredly a difference there, because everyone knows what a fanfic is and what an original fic is, but I don’t think it’s a hard line in the sand.

    There actually is a relatively hard line in the sand when it comes to legal definitions of what a “derivative work” is. You can show if something’s derivative or not. A work is not derivative if it just uses plot structures or ideas or techniques from another work. But it is if it has the same characters, places, etc. I think there are some fairly bright lines there even if they’re not “hard” (I’m suspicious of hard lines) — and not coincidentally, they’re the same kinds of things that attract fandoms to fanfic. Recognizable characters. Recognizable settings.

    There’s a cultural spectrum here rather than a simple divide between originals and fanworks; we’ve already been talking about Wicked; and we don’t say that films or TV series based on books or comics are unacceptable (the sole difference there being that someone has paid someone else for the right to make that film/TV adaptation, and not even that in the case of the Sweeney Todd or Pride & Prejudice films).

    Nothing we’re talking about here is “unacceptable” by any means. But all of these things are derivative works, and I think we really do regard derivative works differently than original ones. If I were to “faithfully” adapt a book into a film, I don’t have total copyright in the screenplay, it’s a derivative. People would not talk about it as if the screenplay was entirely my creative work. All I did was “port” it as if making a mobile phone version of a PC video game. It’s often considered “hack work” even when done by very skilled writers, and that’s for a reason. This isn’t true of all adaptations of course — some are vastly different, but we still always mention the original author for a reason.

    A derivative work is less of a contribution to the arts than an original one, whether we’re talking about Sweeney Todd the musical or Sweeney Todd the film or Wicked or the latest piece of fanfic. It doesn’t mean a derivative is bad or icky or that I wouldn’t want to read it. But especially as fandoms have grown and grown over the last few decades, I sometimes start to feel as if we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that there IS value in originality, even if there is no such thing as “pure” originality, only a spectrum. Lose too much originality, and you end up like earthworms endlessly gobbling the same circle of mud, looking for the last shreds of nutrients. And although not all fandoms are like that, many are disturbingly close.

  32. 32
    Ampersand says:

    The community of communicators is great to some degree. It’s also limiting. There are probably writers out there who have more potential than writing fanfic, who don’t take the risk of really trying to push their own original ideas because they’re getting some level of audience gratification via borrowing others’ characters. To me that’s a loss. It’s nice that they have a small safer pool to swim around in, but the world is a little bit poorer.

    And many people who might never have shown their writing or art to anyone else will find an audience, and be encouraged to create more, and the world is a little bit richer for it.

    (And how many frustrated, “original” but ultimately mediocre artists, who never find any publication or recognition for their countless hours spent creating, would have been happier if they hooked up with a fanfic community instead?)

    No fanfic (except absolute cut-and-paste plagiarism) is utterly un-new. At the very least, it gives the authors the pleasure of creating. Not everyone is driven to create their own universes; some people find it more fulfilling to fill in the gaps in someone else’s work.

    A derivative work is less of a contribution to the arts than an original one, whether we’re talking about Sweeney Todd the musical or Sweeney Todd the film or Wicked or the latest piece of fanfic.

    This is an odd example to discuss, and not — I think — one that supports your case. Sondheim, the songwriter of Sweeney Todd, is arguably the best musical writer of the last century; he’s certainly in any reasonable critic’s “top 5″ list. But most of his musicals are derivative.

    I think you’re trying too hard to find a hard-and-fast rule where there’s none. I think that originality is part of what determines “contribution to the arts” — but originality can be expressed in more ways than just making up characters and settings, and sometimes — as in the case of Sweeney Todd — the work added later can be the more important and original work.

    The best creators tend to produce original characters and settings is because that’s where you can find respect and recognition. In fields — like musicals — where it’s not considered second-rate to adapt other people’s work, it’s common to see highly respected creators doing both adaptations and original (well, y0u know what I mean) work.

    I do agree with you that there’s value in creating new characters and settings, but there’s also value in community, and in using creativity as a means of sharing beliefs and thoughts about a common work of art. And there’s value in creativity that is relatively noncompetitive, too; many more people, including the gloriously talented but also those without much talent, can share “the prize” in fanfic than in professional fiction writing.

  33. 33
    lilacsigil says:


    I think you’re trying too hard to find a hard-and-fast rule where there’s none.

    A good deal of fanfic, in my experience, is written as a contribution to a community, as well as an artistic statement. For example, after an episode of a TV show, lots of “post-ep” fanfic appears, as a discussion of the episode. It would be hard to argue that artistic originality is the primary purpose or even a useful tool for assessment of these fanfics.

  34. 34
    Mandolin says:

    “Then you know how galling it is when somebody deliberately misconstrues what you’re saying, for example ignoring the explanatory clause “or at least from the perspective Jo’s talking about”. (Jo’s an author, too; isn’t it galling that anyone else, author or no, is lecturing about what *she* should feel?)”

    Oh, please, Mythago. In a condescending tone, you deigned to explain to me that a book is “not just a thing” to “an author.”

    Authors are different.

    Amp reminded me this afternoon of a time when Sailorman lectured you on the nitty gritty of the law with the assumption that you were ignorant on it. He put his foot in his mouth then; you’ve put yours in your mouth now. I know full well how “an author” feels, and since there’s more than one of us, we feel differently.

  35. 35
    Mandolin says:

    And by the by, I criticize what Jo Walton feels about fan fiction because she’s wrong, not because she lacks the special spiritual woo to comprehend the true authorship experience.

    If you think I’m wrong, then criticize me on that ground, not because I’m not author enough to really get what it’s like, ya know, really like to have written something which people might fanfic about.

    In your last comment, you attempted to conflate these things.

  36. 36
    mythago says:

    In a condescending tone

    I don’t know if you have some kind of sound plug-in to the Internet, but I know for damn sure I didn’t put my voice on it. Which is to say, the “condescending tone” was entirely in your imagination.

    If you think I’m wrong, then criticize me on that ground, not because I’m not author enough to really get what it’s like, ya know

    Oh, for crissakes. I don’t even need to post. Carry on pretending that you can read my mind and make up my half of the conversation; you’re clearly enjoying it so.

  37. 37
    Individ-ewe-al says:

    Ya know, I would like to hope that in a feminist utopia, a woman would have the right to decide whether she wants her work to be used for other people’s sexual pleasure. I would like to hope that if she objected to appropriation of her work, she would not be told she that she shouldn’t have gone out in public if she didn’t want to be attacked, and anyway, lots of other women writers love this kind of thing so she should be flattered.

  38. 38
    Bjartmarr says:

    All assertions of what’s right and proper aside, I think Walton’s fundamental error here is that she believes that publishing her writing can in any way be “safe”.

    Once she shares it with somebody, a draconian copyright enforcement policy might manage to keep fanfic from being distributed to the general public. But there’s no way in the world to keep people from writing it in the privacy of their own homes, or from thinking of it in their own heads.

    If you don’t want people to share in your writing, then don’t share it with them. You can’t have it both ways.

    /me goes off to find some Malcolm/Jayne/Vera slash. Hope Joss doesn’t mind.

  39. 39
    Nancy Lebovitz\ says:

    I’m a friend of Jo’s, and I’ve read a fair amount of her writing about how she writes.

    What follows is my interpretation: She writes when what a story needs to be is clear to her. It’s a very specific vision. (I use visual metaphors because that’s the way my mind works– I’m not sure it’s the most accurate description.)

    That’s why she doesn’t want other people modifying the story or expanding on it– what they’re doing violates what the story *is* to her.

    This isn’t about sexually oriented fanfic. It isn’t about copyright law. It isn’t about why other writers do or don’t want fanfic based on their work. It’s about what one writer needs to want to continue to publish.

    It’s tempting to believe that everyone’s mind is pretty much similar, and pretty much like your own, or at least their minds *should* be like yours, but this just isn’t true. Other people’s minds are stranger than you can imagine, but you only find this out if you give them room to be different.

  40. 40
    Thene says:

    Individ-ewe-all:

    Ya know, I would like to hope that in a feminist utopia, a woman would have the right to decide whether she wants her work to be used for other people’s sexual pleasure.

    Why?

    I mean, what would be utopian about that? Would the world really be a better place if her fans stifled themselves to protect her fee-fees? Note that statements like this never work in practice, as Anne Rice’s fandom has infamously proved – people are going to go away and process the books themselves, and this often involves fanworks and derivations, and telling them not to has no effect. Would a world in which the author could veto that process, on account of her feelings, really be a better world for anyone other than her?

    Note that most fanwriters and fanartists are women, and most of the canons they take on are male-authored/directed. Dressing Walton’s story up with gender dynamics is horribly misleading wrt fandom as a whole. That said, I’m just generally intrigued by the fact that so much of fandom is about straight women giving sexual pleasure to other straight women with the help of utterly unaware men. How do you frame that?

    Holly, I agree with Amp when it comes to derivation – the original Sweeney Todd stories would have been lost long ago had Sondheim not made them more than what they originally were. Also, how many great books have had a renaissance following an adaptation? I for one originally read both Les Miserables and Three Kingdoms because of exposure to adaptations and they’re now two of the core books in my life (while I no longer give two hoots about their adaptations). That phenomena has a clear parallel in fan cultures – people really do go out and buy books/DVDs because their favourite fanwriters have migrated to that fandom. It’s a tiny and uncontrollable marketing effect, but it gets people who are otherwise hard for advertisers to reach.

    If you can get positive audience feedback on your work by giving them what they want… and what they want is more of the same characters in some predictable permutations (slash pairings, alternate timelines, etc) then that’s an easy way to get your audience fix. You never have to push yourself.

    That begs a question – given that, why do some fanwriters push themselves? Why did Mitsugi write that 600,000 -word AU? In general, few fanwriters sit down and say ‘What’s the easiest way I can get more popular today?’ (though some, including Cassandra Clare, clearly do :/ ). Ease and recognition are not the base motivations here.

    This isn’t true of all adaptations of course — some are vastly different, but we still always mention the original author for a reason.

    Not so.

    Aside from the fact that I think creativity is good for people’s psychological and emotional well-being, I also think there’s a positive value in expanding and evolving the kinds of stories we tell, what we tell them about, how we tell them, etc. I really do believe that’s an inherent good — creating new things that haven’t been explored before, even though as we’ve both already pointed out, there’s nothing that’s 100% new. A lot of fanfic, however, is utterly un-new.

    But so are a lot of romance novels, or mystery novels, or supposedly original fantasies that are really just set in Tolkienland yet again. I recently saw it posited that that’s why most successful MMOs (and p&p RPGs) are fantasy, even though sci-fi consistently shifts more cinema tickets and TV audience figures; because everyone knows what an elf is and what it is likely to do, and such clichés are conducive to group activities. Fandom reflects that herd attraction to cliché, for sure, but so do published genre works.

    As for emotional wellbeing, I agree but I wouldn’t project that onto everyone in the world. People who write tend to do it because it makes them happy in some way. That doesn’t mean that if everyone who doesn’t write began to do so, they’d all be happier. Fandom has unquestionably got a lot of people involved in creating who wouldn’t’ve otherwise done so (me, to some extent, though I stick mostly to original stuff nowadays), and that’s been good for a lot of us. Ponderosa’s article about how that worked for her is a powerful anecdote. Without fandom, could this new wave of creators have found themselves?

    If you’re using your own stuff that nobody’s ever heard before, you have to work much harder to sell it, rely more on word of mouth — and with more readers engaged in consuming fanfic as opposed to original work (and reading time is certainly a scarce resource) there are fewer people to spread that word of mouth.

    There are counterexamples to this – such as John Dies At The End, which after being available free on the web for several years (and still is) has now shifted hundreds of print copies. See also webcomics and web cartoonists (hello Amp!), though webcomics consume less of the reader’s time than original fiction and it’s easier to instantly see if you’re going to like it. And written porn – writing non-fan porn will get you a web audience and it will be a wider audience than if you’re writing in fandom, with a greater ratio of readers to writers.

    Given that, I don’t think you can use the audience reception argument alone to explain why people write/draw fan stuff. I see it as more of a creative urge – to explore a story as part of a group, often a group that’s all-female or damn near it. I feel like you’re underrating the communities that make it possible for both fanworks and original works to thrive on the web – you seem to be casting them as a passive audience whose role is merely to reliably dispense feedback and popularity, rather than as fellow creators all.

    Lose too much originality, and you end up like earthworms endlessly gobbling the same circle of mud, looking for the last shreds of nutrients. And although not all fandoms are like that, many are disturbingly close.

    Yes, they are, and so (imo) is Hollywood.

    Amp:

    And there’s value in creativity that is relatively noncompetitive, too; many more people, including the gloriously talented but also those without much talent, can share “the prize” in fanfic than in professional fiction writing.

    Ever read Women/Writing 1: How Fanfiction Makes Us Poor? I’m not 100% with that essay (for one thing, the first fic community I was ever part of happened to be the only majority-male one I’ve ever seen, and maybe that’s shaped my views on how gender affects fandom), but I think it raises an interesting counterargument to the idea that the “prize” of fandom is a real prize.

  41. 41
    Individ-ewe-al says:

    Thene, I’m aware of the argument that fandom is wonderful because it’s female dominated and operates as a gift economy outside the mainstream capitalist system. I have a lot of time for that argument. But at the same time, there’s the saying “your orgasm won’t save the world”.

    Just because fanfic does have the positive qualities you mention, along with Tigerlily and others, it doesn’t mean that all fanfic-related activities and opinions are above criticism. Fandom is important, but the feelings of specific women and their ability to control their own professional work are also important. I am worried when I see vocal groups of progressive, feminist-identified fans gloating about how they savaged Anne Rice, and how they showed that JK Rowling but good, and Jo Walton had better watch out if she prefers to explore women’s sexuality in published novels rather than the fanfic id vortex… Saying the publishing and entertainment industries are male dominated doesn’t excuse trampling some women in the stampede.

  42. 42
    Thene says:

    But how are these people being trampled? It’s not like people are throwing fanfic at them everywhere they go. I don’t see evidence of harm being done, to anyone, by the existence of fic per se, just hurt feelings and bruised egos. Particularly given that some authors experience these hurt feelings but others do not, I don’t see why they should be regarded as evidence that fan activity is inherently wrong.

    Just because fanfic does have the positive qualities you mention, along with Tigerlily and others, it doesn’t mean that all fanfic-related activities and opinions are above criticism.

    Did any of us say it was?

    No one mentioned world-saving either. Or orgasms.

    I am worried when I see vocal groups of progressive, feminist-identified fans gloating about how they savaged Anne Rice, and how they showed that JK Rowling but good, and Jo Walton had better watch out if she prefers to explore women’s sexuality in published novels rather than the fanfic id vortex…

    Um, links please? I for one have never seen gloating about savaging an author, only offhand ‘I don’t care what s/he says, I’m writing it anyway’ towards such people, and sometimes a bit of glee at turning a work to a purpose for which it was not intended (I have a [male] flatmate who is one of those people who take children’s books, make the protagonists all grown up, and then slash them). What you describe is fanfic writers attacking authors, threatening their persons and works – which would be an unusual thing for a fan to be doing. So, please, evidence?

  43. 43
    Melissa L. says:

    Hi, another lurker here

    A derivative work is less of a contribution to the arts than an original one, whether we’re talking about Sweeney Todd the musical or Sweeney Todd the film or Wicked or the latest piece of fanfic.

    I agree with Amp when he said that originality is not confined to creating new characters and settings. Originality can be a new interpretation of a well known story. For example, both “The Red Tent” (as mythago mentioned earlier) and “The Mists of Avalon” are derivative, as they take take their characters and settings from the Bible and Arthurian legend, respectively. The fact that these stories are so well known and prominent in Western culture adds to the novels’ power because it forces the audience to reconsider an old narrative in a new, and in the case of these novels, a female, perspective. Had the authors tried to advance the same ideas or themes using original character and settings, they may have produced very good historical fiction and fantasy, but it would not have had the same effect.

    Another example, Jean Rhys’ “Wide Sargasso Sea” is a prequel to and a retelling of a well known novel (“Jane Eyre”) from the perspective of one of the book’s characters (Bertha Mason). This case is somewhat different from the previous two works in that it is retelling a specific novel with a known author rather than popular myths or legends; in that sense it could be called fanfiction. Its value as art comes from the fact that it gives a voice to a marginalized character and explores issues (race, colonization, etc.) which are present in “Jane Eyre” but not addressed.

    These ideas may have been easier to develop using well known characters rather than creating completely new characters and settings, but that does not detract from their value. IMO, the popularity of the stories and novel increases the power of the derivative works to communicate their themes and message because they have the ability to make readers to reconsider the original narrative in light of the issues raised by the new works, which may cause some readers to apply that same critical eye to other cultural narratives.

    Although much fanfiction posted on the internet is badly written and mostly unoriginal, there are some talented and creative writers out there. It’s possible that sometime in the future a story that, for example, explores gender roles and heteronormativity in the Harry Potter universe could serve the same role for
    “Harry Potter” that “Wide Sargasso Sea” does for “Jane Eyre” or “The Problem of Susan” does for “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

  44. 44
    Angel H. says:

    **Sorry, but don’t have time to read all of the responses right now.

    I love fanfic. I love reading *and* writing it.

    There are some authors, studios, etc. that does not want fanfic published due to emotional attachment and/or copyright infringement. Example: Ann Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton have asked the writers at Fanfiction.net and several other large fanfic sites not to publish anything based on their stories. They stopped. For a while Universal and Fox were seeking out fanfic sites like to shut down fanfics of “The X-Files” and the “Star Trek” franchise. The studios backed down when they realized that fanfic helps to keep the franchise alive. I also happen to know that the creator of Disney’s “Gargoyles” appreciates fanfic, but would rather not read it. (“They’re like my children.”)

    If you put out anything to be consumed by the public at large, then you should be ready for satire, parody, imitation, and further exploration. The people who write fanfic do so for the love of the franchise; it’s not as though anybody’s making any money off of it.

  45. 45
    other orange says:

    It’s possible that sometime in the future a story that, for example, explores gender roles and heteronormativity in the Harry Potter universe could serve the same role for “Harry Potter” that “Wide Sargasso Sea” does for “Jane Eyre” or “The Problem of Susan” does for “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

    I think that’s an interesting and worthwhile point- and I want to add that, as a writer and reader of fanfic, I have run across stories that perform that role for me. Stories that take a once-limited character perspective (think, Pansy Parkinson, a female Slytherin in the HP series) and expand on it, offering a female or alternative view of events and motivations. Honestly, I came to Harry Potter through fanfiction- I wasn’t interested in the books originally, but the sensitive and intelligent analysis I found of them in fanfiction and fandom meta-essays made me reconsider.

    I respect the feelings and viewpoints of authors and creators like Jo- and I would refrain from using their work in fanfiction if I knew it personally offended them. And if I’m wrong for bringing up another point of hers, because the discussion should come away from her and on to fandom in general, please ignore this. But she later makes this statement:

    I can’t respond to all of you who are asking politely if I mind if they write fanfic in worlds I’m not still actively writing or whatever, because it all sounds like “Do you mind being raped just a little bit?”

    I do have a problem with that statement, though I understand and appreciate her honesty and how hard it must be for her to struggle with the issue- but, to take the pressure off of Jo, I’ve seen statements like that again and again. That fanfiction can be compared to a violent or harassing act on the part of a fan-author. An author’s right to feel that way is absolute. But I also feel I have a right to disagree. One of my main “fandoms” is Doctor Who. It has a canon that spans decades, planets, and entire casts of characters. Within the canon itself, there’s debate over what’s considered in the timeline and authentic- the tie-in novels ? The radio plays ? Only the television series ? The comic books ?

    When I create a new world for an established Doctor and companion to run around in; out of love for the characters and a desire to see them in some fun, exciting, different setting, dealing with new problems and challenges; it would be extremely hurtful to be accused of metaphorically “raping” an author’s canon or worse, the author themselves. Fanfiction, at its heart, is play. It’s play. When children weave new tales out of old, they do so because they’re finding a place for themselves in the universe; figuring out what sort of person they’d like to be, what they admire, what they’ve learned of human nature and of storytelling. We’re adults, so we have to be held responsible for how and when and why we play- but to be told that our creative play is actively harmful is unsettling at best.

    We tell stories from our own perspectives and frameworks. I also write original fiction, both poetry and prose. And I consider that play. I do it out of love. And for the same reasons I go to fan communities and write for/with them. It’s a way to process our experiences of living in a world that saturates us with stories and myths and imagery, that demands we experience it; only to turn and tell us that none of it belongs to us- so we should watch, read and listen passively, and then consume the next product. It’s our way of dealing with a world where studio heads can say “no more movies with female leads.” I reject that model. Fanfiction communities aren’t utopia- God, are they not ! They’re a mess, but I think a productive, positive mess. What they are is an honest reaction and reflection of the human experience.

    And I’ve rambled too long, apologies.

  46. 46
    A.J. Luxton says:

    When I originally saw her comments on fan fiction, I had a very upset emotional reaction of my own, which was that I felt I wouldn’t be able to read her books for fear my mind would respond with its own stories that I then could not freely write down.

    I think it’s ironic that the pro-fanfic and anti-fanfic sides of things are both afraid of being silenced. It’s the fist/nose problem as usual.

    Evaluating this later, I think maybe my nose is also too far out in the street: that should my mind respond with stories, I could find another way to express them in meta-dialog or some other means of communication.

    But I’ll second what’s been said quite often: all the myths and legends we know began as fanfic, Dante was writing fanfic for Virgil, and the entire Western literary canon would end here if derivative works were banned. So they can’t be, and shouldn’t be, and if they were outlawed, it would make me an outlaw.

    Here’s my new answer: let’s say a person, probably a woman but not necessarily, has experienced traumatic abuse. Their abuser force-fed them strawberries. The smell and appearance of strawberries reminds them.

    It’s absolutely wrong to outlaw strawberries. It’s absolutely wrong to outlaw giving people strawberries.

    But if you know that person, you won’t give them strawberries, even if it’s summer and that’s what your garden’s making. That’s not a legal argument; that’s respect.

    I think I finally understand something I didn’t when I first read that comment and thought, “No! You can’t stop me from growing strawberries!”

  47. 47
    pinkbagels says:

    As an author who has been published, I only have this to say:

    I really *wish* people would write fanfiction of my work.

    I am an author who writes both original and fanfiction works and I don’t see a difference between the two processes, other than the fact that sometimes fanfiction is less descriptive. Yet, even here, it is up to the author creating that derivative work to make the story accessible, and while many authors believe you can throw out a lot of that basic characterization because ‘everyone already knows about it’, if you want to use fanfiction as an exercise tool, writing it should be approached with the same rules as original fiction. My goal when writing the occasional longer fanfiction piece is to ensure the reader can drop into this already created universe cold and still maintain a certain sense of the general feel of the show, and possibly seek the work it has been derived from out.

    Personally, I love it when people write AUs of series and take stylistic risks that otherwise couldn’t happen in the original work. I’ve been guilty of this particular tack myself, and once had a very surreal experience where other fanfiction authors wrote fanfic based on my Alternate Universe characters. Being in contact with these ‘fans’ of the work was a wonderful experience, and opened my own eyes as to how people perceive what you have written with their own personal filters. Yes, there were some stories I didn’t particularly like, but then there were others that absolutely blew my mind with their insight.

    Part of the whole issue, I think, is the fragile nature of the writerly ego. We *like* to think we are special and doing something important in creating these stories, but as we set them out into the wide world for all to see, they are now grown and on their own, creating their fledgling stir without us. Telling our stories they aren’t allowed to play with the kids down the street when they are full grown adults capable of making their own decisions tends to make an author appear as a controlling mother whose finger is always shaking and saying ‘no’ and who then wonders why her kids never call her.

    Fanfiction, to me, is a love letter to an author, regardless of what squicky, odd, weird perception may be residing within it. The fact is, someone out there was passionate enough about what you’d written, became so enmeshed in the story, that they simply had to continue it in some fashion because it had such a deep hold upon their psyche. Creating that passion in a stranger is a worthy goal for any author.

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  49. Fanfic, like imitation, is a form of flattery. People who use other author’s characters more adventures from them. I think that it should not be illegal, but I also can see how it can be frustrating to authors.