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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In Defense of Fanfic

Okay--I warned you it was coming, but I have to say, you all egged me on.

See, the thing is, I mentioned fanfiction, and I got a whole lot of people saying, "Yeah--I wrote that." Some of them even said, "I've been writing fanfic since I was a kid." And an even bigger batch of folks (especially in the m/m circles) said, "I started out writing by writing fanfic."

And shit just started percolating, and I realized I've been writing fanfic for most of my life.

When I was a kid, I read (picture divine light and holy music shining down upon the title) Lord of the Rings, and yes, it changed my life. It was followed in quick order by The Chronicles of Prydain, The Dark is Rising, The Dragonriders of Pern, and all things Robin McKinley--and a host of other sci-fi/fantasy that I only remember when I walk through the bookstore--or my daughter's bedroom.

And I didn't just want to (read and read and re-read and moon over and daydream about) the stories. I wanted to BE IN THE STORIES. I developed an entire fantasy coping mechanism--sort of online with the Jasper Fjord or Wishbone or Quantum Leap idea, wherein my friends and I would be called upon (trumpets, fanfare) to venture INTO the stories and become a part of them, in order to make them turn out right. They HAD to turn out right. It was a moral imperative--even more important than historical events. Hitler didn't have to die, mind you, but Aragorn MUST survive.

And, voila, I was writing fanfic.

Because I am clueless, I didn't know it was fanfic, even though fan fiction has been called such and printed with regularity since (canyaguess? Canya? C'mon... gueeessssssss...) Didja guess? Yup-- Star Trek is (according to Wikipedia and the general cybercircles I seem to be running in) one of the first major franchises to be fan-fiction-fodder. And for the most part, the franchise didn't seem to mind. (I seem to recall that Roddenberry did his share of ganja... good for Gene R., really--way to be laid back.) In fact, a LOT of franchises don't seem to mind.

Buffy, Firefly, Supernatural, X-Files--all of these franchises have given the wink-and-nod to the writing of fan-fiction--and why not? When Star Trek fan-fic started out, it was done in underground zines and friendly scribbled notes cobbled together during lunches. But still, it managed to power enough rabid fandom and advertising synergy to fuel DECADES of conventions, signings, movies, and four spinoffs--three of which had full-on seven year runs. Since the original canon only spawned 79 episodes (still 60 summat more than Firefly!) this fan-based-power-marketing intense--and that was before the internet.

When the internet came online, the fanfiction capabilities were ENDLESS. Fanfiction.net is an archive that deals in nine categories, including television shows, manga, movies, books, cartoons, games, and comics. Buffy was one of the first shows to be 'fan-fic'ked , and on the site, folks can share their shit, as it were--get like minded people to read their own creations, their own 'ins' to the worlds that have caught their imaginations.

I need to add here, that the ability to share fanfiction is seven to nine buckets of fucking awesome. One of the first fan-fics I ever wrote--again, before I knew there was such a thing-- was written about the Batman universe. I learned that in one of the canons, Batman and Batgirl... well, they had a history, yes they did, but it didn't last. And I started to explore the price that duality would exact on a good and decent man attempting to be too many heroes in one person. For those of you who read Bitter Moon--yeah, it should sound familiar, and the fine, wavering line between the Romantic hero and the Gothic hero has given me acres of virgin territory to penetrate *snark* in terms of character and theme development. However, that story didn't really last beyond the 'printed matter' stage--mostly because the one person I showed it to--a colleague--laughed until she cried. And it wasn't friendly laughter either. Yes--people who read and support literature in all forms are VERY important to the literature's continuation as a legitimate cultural art from.

And that's the crux of the fanfic matter right there, isn't it? Legitimacy. How legitimate CAN an art-from be when much of it is purloined from other sources?

Interesting question--and from what I can figure, there are two answers, one legal and the other artistic--and since it's my essay I'm tackling the legal issue first.

The legal issue is sticky.

For all of the franchises and authors that support--or at least wink-and-nod--fan-fic, there is a whole host of franchises and authors that rabidly and vehemently reject it.

Authors such as J.K. Rowling and Anne McCaffrey have said, "Why not?" (Although Rowling is purportedly a little off-put by the sexually explicit stuff, and I sort of don't blame her, and McCaffrey has asked that people stay within certain boundaries.) These authors are often flattered that their work has affected readers to such an extent--they want the magic to continue as it were, and enjoy the idea that their characters and worlds will continue on as separate entities from those that they alone put on the page. Some authors seem to feel as though fan-fiction is free press and intellectual exploration--and the highest form of flattery.

But not everybody. Authors such as J.D. Robb, J.R. Ward, Anne Rice, Annie Proulx, and P.N. Elrod have asked that fiction based on their characters and worlds NOT be archived. At all. Period. The End. Some of the authors, such as Proulx and Ward, have cited that the characters are *their* intellectual property, and the endings (of, say, Brokeback Mountain or Lover Unbound), are their business, and the writers flatly don't want fans and readers telling them what to do--not even as flattery. A number of authors have even been involved in legal squabbles and associated dramas that insist the fan-fiction be pulled from the internet based on copyright infringement. Most of the arguments cited for this include not wanting the market to be saturated with the product and authors not wanting to be charged with intellectual thefts themselves in case they put out a story with an overlapping storyline. In short, nobody wants to be accused of copying, when the fact is, sometimes great minds (and great minds trying to THINK like great minds) think alike.

And that last one is the most interesting dilemma (to me, anyway.) It seems that even the television franchises who wink&nod fan-fiction don't allow their writers to READ any of it. Nobody wants to be accused of stealing someone else's intellectual property--and nobody wants their canon influenced by someone who's A. Not getting credit, and B. Not going to be around to help write the ending. Now, the reason this last reason really has me hooked is simple.

It's legitimate.

There is some fan-fiction out there that IS that good. Good writers, smart people, imaginative observers, put their hearts and souls into the worlds that have wrapped them up and delivered them safely from reality. These writers have repaid their beloved worlds with more places to go, that's all. And that love and effort have paid off--they have created REAL worlds, as real as the worlds that have enthralled them, real enough to threaten the boundaries of the worlds that spawned their own creativity, at least in the legal sense.

And to me, that's another couple of fucking buckets of awesome.

As a teacher, "Write an extra chapter for your free reading book" has been on a long list of creative, engaging projects that I keep circulating in lieu of the standard oral book report. If you ever actually SEE me when I mention oral book reports, the words are inevitably accompanied by my pantomime of gnawing through the purple veins of my own wrist. Yes. I hate them that much. But an extra chapter? Now THAT I look forward to. An extra chapter, penned by a student--well that indicates a student has been engaged by the reading. The student has not only read but also understood, remembered, applied, synthesized and evaluated (trust me--these are a teacher's power words) their reading. It's big and good teaching mojo here--but until recently, I never realized it was called fan-fic.

As a writer? *huh huh, huh huh* That's me, laughing bashfully. I mean, I'm not huge, you know? I'm not J.R. Ward or Anne Rice--I'm Amy Lane, and I've sold maybe 5,000 books total. Diluting my market is NOT a problem, so take my opinion for what it is--pretty fucking salty, all things told.

I love fan-fiction. I love the idea that people want to write fan-fiction for my universe (yes, Grasshopper, I'm talking to you and you know it!) and I love love love LLLLLURRRRRRVVVVVE to the ends, depths and breadth of my liberal hippie soul, the idea that something I wrote, something I imagined, spawned creativity in another human being. *I* DID THAT. MY IMAGINATION DID THAT. I mean, gees, people. How amazing is it, that what I wrote is inspiring enough to make someone else write? Isn't that the definition of art? For fucking real--does that mean I'm an ARTIST?

Well shit--yeah, fan-fic all you want!

And as for why a writer--even a nascent one who has not yet published--would want to write fan-fiction?

Ohmigod! It's a writer's dream workshop, all in one little short.

As a friend said, (Samurai!) Fan-fiction is a twinkie for the soul. You don't have to worry about plot-holes, or even plot. A lot of fan-fic is written to capture a moment, capture a gasp of character, explore a conflict. Fan-fiction writers can explore and practice details, love scenes (yum!), mood, tone, theme, diction, character development, etc. all without getting bogged down in complex plots, worrying about plotholes, or getting tangled in the myriad complexities and intricacies of building a complete world. The world is complete. The canon is written. Even writing outside the canon, the characters and their quirks are built in. It's up to the fan-fic writer to capture a moment in time, and sharpen their writing chops on the fineness of the moments that ensnare our hearts.

See--it's all of the sweetness, none of the baking! It's better than refrigerated Otis Spunkmeyer cookie dough! For one thing, since it's free and available on the internet in both edited and unedited forms, you can eat it raw! Or raw and sexual, if that's your thing. However you scoop and bake it, fan-fiction can be one way to stretch the old writing muscles and tone the cranium up for some serious writing exercise--and, as long as you don't *oops!* poach on the territory of those writers who are dead-set against it, you can stretch those muscles for a little bit of praise and none of the pitfalls of writing your own stuff! I mean, how scrumptious is that?

I enjoy it. I mean seriously--when I feel a little panicky about RAMPANT (and those of you who know me can see how I might be feeling the pressure of returning to the Coryverse just a smidge) I go to Sam&Dean world, and voila! No pressure. No one needs to see it, and I can work out the ol' muscles and then get to work in my own world. It's all messages and peeled grapes in the fan-fic world. And if I didn't have my own wip? Well I'd have a creative, productive way to extend the magic, make it real, make it mine.

Seriously--I don't know why the medium needed me to defend it. Fan-fiction pretty much defends itself.

(Guys, sorry I haven't been checking up on blogs--I'm on sort of a writing tear, but I'll get to you, I promise!)

20 comments:

Rachel Cotterill said...

I've only written fan-fiction once, and that was as part of a Christmas story exchange where the recipient had specified the kind of story she wanted. I found it harder than writing original stuff, because I had to use characters I hadn't invented and, therefore, might have misunderstood.

If people wanted to write fanfic based on my stories, I'd definitely read it. It would be fascinating to know what stories other people might set in the world I created... and it's a big world, there's plenty of space!

Donna Lee said...

Wow. Good essay. I am a Star Trek fan (when it was on, nothing else in the house counted. My dad, who ran a business out of our home, wouldn't answer the phone) from way back. I saw the first fan fiction and some of it was so good, I used to wonder why they didn't buy those stories to be scripts.

Robert Heinlein wrote a book called The Number of the Beast in which the characters travel to worlds created by authors. Every time a book is written, a new world is created. It was wildly imaginative and wonderful. Fan fiction in the very best sense of the word.

KnitTech said...

I'm right there with you Sister! I used to play Logan's Run as a kid.

Roxie said...

You mean there are people who read a book, enjoy it, and don't go join the characters in between-the-pages adventures? How passive!

gemma said...

http://www.yuletidetreasure.org/

Try this link chick. One of my kids write fan fic all the time. ps she thinks a Sam and Dean sandwich is very yummy.

Madeleine said...

Huzzah!
Kudos from a lonnnnnnnnngtime fan fiction reader and writer.

ismarah said...

Oooooh - has anyone read any Jasper Fforde?
British writer, character called Thursday Next. That's all literary references and so on, somewhat in the same vein as Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the first book - not the dire film).

Oh, and you're much better than JR Ward.

Samaya Young said...

Excellent "essay" Amy. Very true and wonderfully informative. Knew 'bout Star Trek, of course. Been there, done that and even researched publishing it at S&S. It's allowed ad considered as long as you keep it in theme and don't change major storylines. hahaha.

Write on!

JenB said...

How cool! I've never thought about fanfic this way. Hmm...now I need to find some good fanfic to read.

NekoSamurai said...

Mondo Kudos!!! Goodness fanfiction is like a deliciously wonderful addiction, like chocolate, filled with decadance and (i luv this word) orgasmic wonder. After reading/wrinting a damn good piece of fanfic, all one wants to do is bask in its amazingly wonderous afterglow. *insert Cheesy Grin Here. lol) In response to Star Trek, Im a big trekkie(or trekker as some argue we should be called) this includes my dad, and Bro-in-law. Luv it!

Anesthezea said...

Great post! Speaking of authors and such who have had the wink/nod reaction to fanfic, my favorite has been Bernard Cornwell who wrote the Richard Sharpe series. I don't have the exact quote, but the basic idea was this - If fans want Richard Sharpe and Patrick Harper to hold hands and run through the daisies together, then let 'em. :)

Galad said...

I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this. I always considered fan-faction as flattering to the author.

Marion Zimmer Bradley had a lot of fan-fic written in her Darkover world and actually encouraged and collected some of the best of it.

I loved the new perspectives and expansion on certain characters that resulted.

Samantha Kane said...

I've never really read any fan fic. ::ducking tomatoes:: But this has me thinking I'm seriously missing something. It seems to me that most fan fic is science fiction or paranormal. Is that right?

Heinlein also wrote a book called The Cat Who Walks Through Walls with the same theme. I loved the idea that the worlds created in books became reality in another dimension.

Oh, and I used to be a teacher, too. :-)

Tanner said...

Amy, what a great treatise on fanfic! As always, your blog posts are most enjoyable reads. I look forward to the next. P.S. Bitter Moon does NOT suck. Just thought I'd remind you...

Madeleine said...

I think you could probably find fan fiction on most any series of books, TV shows, movies etc. if you looked hard enough. Really.

Mary M. said...

Great post! I always felt that fanfic fueled the fans' passion for the original series and therefore ultimately had much more positive effects than negative ones - but I understand the complexity of legal issues. It's also a great first step for someone who wants to try his/her hand at writing because the world and the characters are already established, which makes it easier.

Other authors I know who actively discourage fanfiction are Laurell K. Hamilton and Diana Gabaldon. JR and Anne Rice, I knew. Fortunately, what they don't know can't hurt them and if you know where to search you can always find what you want. ;) Good for me since I'm such a fanfic addict. It's become a reflex to search for fanfic when I fall in love with a book series or movie.

Louiz said...

An amazing link - and I have written fan fic all my life, it's just mostly never left my head. Between this post and Bells one on writing I'm thinking it might be time to try again...

fawatson said...

I agree with everything you said in your blog and also the comments. What people often forget is that some very well known and well-established authors who have since published in their own universes with their own characters started out writing fanfic. For example: did you know that Diane Duane (She of the "So You Want to be a Wizard" series and "Door into Fire, Shadow, Sunset" fame) wrote in the Star Trek universe? As one commenter pointed out, some well established authors talent-spotted fanfic writers and helped them to become established instead of railing against them. The popularity of Yuletide (which had over 1600 participants this year includig me) and various fanfic ether-based clubs (Harry Potter is big and well known but by no means alone) bears testimony to the fact fanfic is here to stay.

But then I would say that wouldn't I, given I too write fanfic (in Mary Renault's the Charioteer universe, oddly, not SF/F which is my usual reading material).

BTW: I am currently in the middle of reading Bitter Moon II and enjoying it very much. Well Done!

Rhi said...

Terrific post Amy! I think fanfic is very much to adults (and teens) what playing pretend is to kids. I remember pretending to be Ghostbusters with my brother and other childhood friends because we loved the film so much. I'm certainly not going to run around my house with my husband pretending to catch ghosts at 29 years of age but isn't fanfic somewhat the same idea just written out.

I, personally, find it selfish and unattractive when authors are so anti-fanfic because I've seen the benefits it can have on series/genre/author-popularity. If it weren't for some teens I met online in my early 20's I'd never have read the Harry Potter books but their fanfic really made me think it sounded fun. So I read them!

I just wish there was a better set of legalities to make it possible for authors to safely read fanfic and for more fans to share their work. If I were a published author I would definitely enjoy seeing what my creations had inspired others to create even if it's terribly cheesy or poorly written.

There really is nothing new under the sun and I don't see Shakespeare crying foul everytime someone writes a 'Romeo and Juliet'-esque tale. Granted he's not here to do so but I think many themes and ideas just work that way. An example of an author I think just writes carefully edited fanfic would be Christopher Paolini... and he's still getting published. Ha!

Anyways... lovely discussion Amy thanks for defending something I personally think deserves more respect than it gets.

Hannah said...

Hi - I came over here from Samurai Knitter. I looovve fan-fic - and Stargate (SG1 and SGA) is my personal crack! :D I totally agree with you - it really helped me find my writing "voice", not to mention it is so fun to play!! :D