Actually, I think debates about fanfiction are boring. And pointless. And such a waste of perfectly good time when people could be telling stories.

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Title: Actually, I think debates about fanfiction are boring. And pointless. And such a waste of perfectly good time when people could be telling stories
Creator: matociquala
Date(s): July 2, 2004
Medium: online
Topic: fanfiction
External Links: essay with comments - page one
essay with comments - page two
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Actually, I think debates about fanfiction are boring. And pointless. And such a waste of perfectly good time when people could be telling stories. (the title used here on Fanlore) is a 2004 essay by matociquala.

Some Topics Discussed in the Essay and Comments

From the Essay

What I have to say on the subject will probably make me unpopular in certain quarters, but what the hell. Here we go.

Actually, I think debates about fanfiction are boring. And pointless. And such a waste of perfectly good time when people could be telling stories.

Everybody's entitled to their own opinion. *g* That said, here's mine:

I write pastiche. I write historical fantasy. I write homage. I write professional stories about Dick Feynman and Tycho Brahe and Elvis Presley and Irene Adler and characters who, if you squint at them not too closely, are obvious parodies of pop culture figures with the serial numbers filed about halfway off. I have a book that's a Tam Lin retelling and one that's a Thomas the Rhymer retelling and one that's heavily plotted around Shakespeare's sonnets.

Textual poaching is textual poaching, and it's a powerful tool in the right hands, (Shakespeare's? Marlowe's? Kelly Link's? Ben Rosenbaum's? Gregory Maguire's? Peg Kerr's? Pamela Dean's? I could go on and on and on.) and the difference between me writing a multi-volume fantasy series based on the Eddas and Cassie Clare's VSD is (1) I can sell mine for money (2) I have an ambition to sell mine for money (3) [Cassie's] is a hell of a lot funnier.

There's also the issue of the modern obsession with 'originality,' and single-creators, which is, dude, like so 20th century. Shakespeare would have looked at you like you were nuts if you told him he should come up with his own characters and plots. But that's besides the point.

Actually, come to think of it, the Very Secret Diaries is probably protected as parody. But that's also besides the point. There's no *creative* difference in the process of Marlowe adapting Hero & Leander, Shakespeare adapting Romeo & Juliet, and a fanfiction writer adapting Harry Potter. It's the same process by which kids want to play make-believe in the universe of their favorite television shows and books, and by which blues musicians keep tacking on verses to "The House of the Rising Sun," and by which Tam Lin has grown to the absolute monster of variant versions it is today.

We don't like the way it is, so we tinker with it and claim it. It's called the folk process, and it exists in SF as the quote-unquote genre conversation. You can't have Bill the Galactic Hero until there's a Starship Troopers that somebody wants to shout I Refute Thee! at. You can't have The 7% Solution until somebody latches on to the fact that it's never addressed by Conan Doyle that Sherlock Holmes is a cocaine addict. And I realize I'm making enemies by saying that, but I see no difference in that process and in my process in writing a short story like "Old Leatherwings," which is essentially fanfiction based on the fairy tale "The Wild Swans" and the legend of the Old Leatherman.

Since my publications include riffs on historical personages, well known literary canon, and parodies of famous poets, I figure I don't have a leg to stand on, and it would be hypocritical of me to claim that fan fiction is somehow inferior to my riffing the hell out of Randall Garrett in my Abby Irene stories.

Especially when Cassie Clare is so goddamned much more funny than I will ever be. The difference between what she's doing and what Gregory Maguire is doing and what Robert Jordan is doing (because the Wheel of Time, let's be honest, is the unholy collision of Arthuriana with Tolkein... which is what Guy Kay did in his Fionavar books too, but Fionavar's so very, very much more to my taste) -- well, I don't think there is a creative difference. At all. It's all textual poaching.

It's just we pros poach stuff that's in public domain, or we file the serial numbers off in such a way that what we do is legal.

Whether there's a moral difference, I leave as an exercise to the reader. It's a question which bores me, and I have no interest in getting involved in that debate. (My answer tends to be, if the owner of the property is fanfiction-friendly (like MZB, or J.K. Rowling, or whatever) then I don't see *any* moral issues with fanfiction. If the owner is opposed, it's impolite in the extreme to work in their universe.)

I just don't have those kind of control issues; it seems to me that people know the difference between a real honest to god canon Harry Potter novel, and whatever slash coupling is popular this week, and I don't see that the fanfiction hurts Rowling's bottom line any. And it makes her fans happy.

And how is that fanfiction any different than me going to Ambercon and playing in RPGs based on Zelazny's work?

Well, to my mind, it's not, you see. RP is fanfiction too; it's just ephemeral fanfic.

I'm also hip to the idea that some people want to write stuff because, you know, it's fun. Writing is fun! Big secret! I love my job! God is writing fun!

And writing fanfic is a way to find an audience for your writing, and have it read, and still treat that writing as a pleasurable hobby rather than the consuming vocation it has to be if you're going to be serious about publishing. I know whereof I speak: It's taken me seventeen years of working my butt off to get where I am in terms of publication. If you just like to write because you like to write and you want to be read, dude. It's nuts to do that kind of work.

Fanfic, if it's decent, will find an audience.

Actually, I suspect the fact that the approval is easier for fanfic writers to find is one of the reasons that some pro and neopro and wannabe pro writers hate it so damned much. How dare they have an easier time of it than we do?

Well, the answer is, their goals are different. So who cares if they have it easier? They're doing something different. And having fun! How dare they! While I Suffer For My Art!

As for people writing fanfiction based on any of my work? Well, I won't read it, so don't ask me to. I can't, because of the risk of problems like the ones MZB ran into (rumor has it that she died with a novel unpublished, because a fan whose fanfiction she read had treated the same period of Darkover history, and sued her, more or less.) But if anybody loves my work so much they want to play in that sandbox, so be it. I'm flattered that I've affected them on that level, and the best I can promise is an amused pretense at complete ignorance that any such thing even goes on around here.

If they're making any money on it, I want them to either file off the serial numbers enough so that I don't actually have to sue them, though. Or I want my cut. One of the two.

I think that's only fair.

Fan Comments


"And how is that fanfiction any different than me going to Ambercon and playing in RPGs based on Zelazny's work?"

Well, to my mind, it's not, you see. RP is fanfiction too; it's just ephemeral fanfic."

It amazes me that there are people who don't see this. Particularly those who do PBeM as well as playing FTF.


Some of them directly don't see it, as in don't get it if you ask them. Others clearly don't get it because of their views about creator rights on one hand and their activities in gaming on the other. There are a couple of people of my net.acquaintance (no names, please) whose heads might go all splodey if the cognitive dissonance between their expressed opinions and their actions were pointed out to them.

[eternalponine]: He just wanted his cut. There is now an official WHEEL OF TIME RPG. Probably after that question he thought, "Hey... I can make money off of this!"
[supergee]: The Forever War was probably not primarily written as an attack on Starship Troopers, and Heinlein appears to have liked it. Both were defenses of the foot soldiers who did the actual fighting.
[matociquala]: Shh. Quit pokin' holes in my rhetoric. Or, actually go ahead and poke holes in my rhetoric. I deserve it. You're quite right, of course, and I was resorting to hyperbole to make my point. There is a genre conversation about foot soldiers in war, and it's a good one, too, and it's still going on.
[ex truepenn]: I think you can use Arrows of the Queen (Lackey) and Rider at the Gate (Cherryh) instead and get to the same point. It does happen, and by and large people write very interesting books when they're arguing passionately with someone else. Or with themselves.


RP is fanfiction too; it's just ephemeral fanfic.

I agree. What's more, I see a direct line from kids creating new storylines while playing with their Star Wars action figures TO RPGs TO fanfic. Is anybody arguing that children have to be totally original in their playthings?

So who cares if they have it easier?

The thing is, I don't think fanfic is necessarily easier than original. It's a different set of problems, perhaps, but no less difficult. Research. Authenticity to canon.

If I'm writing in the Harry Potter universe, and find I have trouble with Hagrid's accent -- tough beans, I can't suddenly make him Cockney or a NooYawker, something I could do with original characters.

[ex truepenn]:

Shakespeare cribbed from Plutarch, Ovid, Hollinshead, Chaucer, Homer ... Some of his sources are moderately obscure, but mostly they're pretty common. Hell, in Pericles he brings the guy he's cribbing from on stage. Jonson, iirc, had a bit of a thing about being a Poet and not lifting his plots from all and sundry. But it's been a long time since I read any Jonson, or any criticism on Jonson, and I may be misremembering that part.

Shakespeare is the best example ever of the truth in the idea that it's not what you write, it's how you write it.

[st. crispins]:

I followed your link to the other LJ and my reaction to that writer's "honesty" is, quite simply, that it's a load of bs. Sorry, but she does not understand that of which she speaks.

In Hollywood, not every writer creates his or her own series. Most Hollywood writers write *other* peoples' characters. The ones who do it well earn a nice living. When they join the Writers' Guild, no one asks whether or not the characters in the script they just sold were 'original.'

I agree it can be very dicey to borrow a print writer's characters and to write fanfic. It's much too close to the arena of the original work. Better to avoid it.

But TV shows? Movies? Different arena; even without "permission," they're fair game. I mean really, good fanfic can only help a series or movie grow an audience and most savvy producers recognize this.

And as far as wasting time on derivative characters, hey, nothing's been original since the Greeks.

So, I agree with your observations above.

Fanfic ranges in quality; so does pro fic. I've read some really bad SF novels in my time and wondered how the heck they ever got published. I've read fanfic (I prefer the term, fanlit) that was as good as pro fic, if not better. It wasn't pro published because there was no market or the market was too small ---pure and simple.

That might bother someone who wants to earn money through their writing (And God bless those who can) but for a writer, money isn't always the goal. Art works that way some time.

Some fanfic writers have a better, larger, and more responsive audience than a lot of pro writers. So maybe you're right: it's envy.

PS: And just for the record, in MFU, Norman Felton is well aware of fan fic. He even wrote an intro to an issue of Kuryakin File. He recognized the existence of fanfic in a speech at a 1995 Spycon (I was there) and he was supportive.

[matociquala]: I also tend to put media and print in slightly different moral categories; media is collaborative to begin with, for one thing, and print is very obviously the work of an individual, with secondary/tertiary input from others.
I think it's a little more complex than just envy. I think there's also a perfectly justifiable protectiveness of something one's invested a huge amount of time and love into, and feels proprietary toward--a certain oh-god-what-if-they-want-to-slash-my-characters thing. But that's the price a writer pays for release.
When it's done, in my mind, we're giving it to the readers, and they're paying us to engage our fantasy. So there's the text and there's the response, and sometimes the fact that the response can't be controlled really rattles writers. And I understand that.
I personally find the response to be the best part. "Oh! I never saw that in there! That's cool!" And it's the whole reason I write.... well, that and because the voices in my head should bother as many people as possible.
[st. crispins]: I also tend to put media and print in slightly different moral categories; media is collaborative to begin with, for one thing, and print is very obviously the work of an individual, with secondary/tertiary input from others.
I do, too. As I said, when it comes to print, especially for mid-list and genre writers, the arena is just too close. Even fanfic writers don't appreciate someone writing in their constructed universe without permission.
But the person on the LJ who's so against fanfic makes no such distinctions. She doesn't even think there should have been Trek fic.
My God, Roddenberry must be laughing from the grave! Fanfic is what saved his franchise and made him a rich man.
Y'know, there are writers of mainstream fiction who think that writing fantasy and SF is a waste of time and talent. I'm tempted to ask her if anyone has ever tried to dissaude her from her chosen field of writing. How would she feel if a writer of 'true' literature was 'honest' and felt 'sorry' for her?

[st. crispins]:

Wasn't one of the original novels--The Assassination Affair by a well-known fanfiction writer?

J. Hunter Holly (Joan). I don't know how well known she was at the time, but she was (or became) a pro SF writer.

David McDaniels also had a pro, non-MFU novel published.

And of course there was Robert Coulson and Gene DeWeese writing together as Thomas Stratton.

MFU fandom began in LASF. Terry Carr recruited SF fans to write the Ace books, and they did a better job than the pro thriller writers who were hired before them.


Oh, one more thing.

At Boskone, I heard Teresa Nielsen Hayden squeeing over having met the author of the VSDs. She said this while moderating a panel in one of the larger rooms, mostly-full. The entire audience oohed. And I'd say TNH is somebody who can recognize quality fiction, original or no.

[supergee]:I would have been quite happy if Cassie Clare had won the Fan Writer Hugo.
[matociquala]: I think a lot of people would have been. That was lovely stuff.


You're absolutely right that on the writing side, there isn't any difference between writing a modern version of Tam Lin and writing "Star Trek" fan fiction. I've done both. (Writing a Trek novel that you can get published by Pocket is a completely different thing; I tried to do that and I never could get it right. But those constraints are exterior to the basic process.)

I'm very flattered by the company you put me in, but I'd agree with you even if you hadn't.

[matociquala]: *nod* I know my Tam Lin novel -- Blood & Iron, not yet sold -- is poaching. And moreover, I'm not just poaching Tam Lin -- I'm poaching you, on some level, and I'm poaching every other modern fantasy author who's written a Tam Lin novel that I've read. Even if, or maybe especially if, I make the conscious decision to do something differently than you did.
We all know what's going on. And it would be, you know, disingenuous to pretend it wasn't.
pameladean: I am suddenly reminded of a Klingon saying from John M. Ford's The Final Reflection, which goes, more or less, "If I hadn't wanted it known, I would not have said it." If you are published, you enter into the conversation that is literature. It's a bit churlish to stick your nose in the air and get all huffy because somebody responded to your remarks. (I don't mean to discount legal difficulties with outright plagiarism, mind you.)
I myself poached in that same reactive way on the very abundant land of Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock, and also, this being the huge delight of writing a book, on the completely different geography of Gaudy Night.


(I don't mean to discount legal difficulties with outright plagiarism, mind you.)

Yes, and that's another issue entirely. And I do see a moral difference -- a big moral difference -- in fooling around with fanfic, and in attempting to make money of it. (But does anybody in fandom actually attempt to make money off it? I don't actually know enough to say. Other than obvious commercial ripoffs like those Russian Harry Potter books.)

I also see a moral difference between fanfiction based on media (which is collaborative to begin with) and fanfiction based on single-creator works, and I do think that a creator's request for please-no-fanfiction should be honored, out of simple human courtesy. The same way you wouldn't wipe your muddy boots on their rug.

Nor do I have any desire to find myself in the sort of situation that MZB or Chelsea Quinn Yarbro did, regarding fanfiction of my own work. Although I think I'd be very flattered if anybody liked it enough to filk it, or whatever.

[cheshyre]: Cafepress items with mottoes based on fanfic. There was a line of VSD t-shirts that had to be withdrawn for likenesses of the actors. Just searching CafePress, I can see pretty journals with fanart images of Harry Potter characters, frinstance. I heard rumors when CafePress enabled searching their entire database that WB was going to give Harry Potter fans until the end of July to get all HP trademarked materials off the site before bringing it to their lawyers' attention.

[Heidi8]: There's a really long backstory to this. Oh, first, let me introduce myself - I'm Heidi, one of the admins on FictionAlley and also a copyright/trademark/internet lawyer.

Back when FA started, we had a CafePress store in hopes of pulling in some money to cover our license and hosting fees. When we started, they were something like 150$/year. By our six month anniversary, we approximated that they'd be about a thousand dollars a year. This past year, we've paid about four thousand dollars in hosting & bandwith, and about four hundred more in licensing fees for our message/reviewboard software and other expenses.

Initially, the only things we had in the store were things like our Big Bad Mary Sue section and some co-ed naked fanficcing gear. We had a donation page on Amazon, and that was it - most of the money for the site's fees came from the mods & admins, and I think we made a total of fifty bucks on the CP store between that July and that May.

Then, in May, the New York Times did a story about us (on the front page) and even though the article mentioned some of the slash that we host (titanic_days' Snitch, in which Harry and Draco are twenthsomething gangsters and gay lovers in London) the WB Store people contacted us and asked if we wanted to be an affiliate of their new online store.

We said yes but wanted to make sure that they were okay with the stuff we hosted and the fact that we had this little cafe press store. They were and they were, so we did. Then, with their assent, we also signed up for other "associate" things like Amazon and Posters Now, and we started adding more to the contents of the CafePress store. The conditions were that everything be G-rated, and that nothing have both a character name *and* an image that may or may not be a character from the HP books. In part, this is because there is no copyright in most of the character images, and because we were using it as a design rather than as a trademark - and we weren't using the names, which are trademarked.

Heidi8: "see my icon for what the image looked like"

In other words, we're on one side of a line, and we are never crossing it. And despite all that, there's nothing WB could complain about regarding our ship gear because the ones for the specific ships have the clever ship names like Guns & Handcuffs (Draco/Harry), WolfStar (Remus/Sirius) and We Believe in Trees (Ron/Hermione) on them - and they don't have the characters' names at all, so they're like a Very Deep In-Joke.

The whole thing about the CafePress store change was because I made a call to one of the people I talk with at WB, in hopes of helping fans not get screwed over by this sudden and utterly un-previewed change by CP - CP, it seems, didn't even think through the potential implications of their changeover on fen with shops, and WB was very understanding that this was something nobody knew was coming.

Then, of course, a few days later, JKR posts on her website that she's a fangirl of nasubiona's artwork, and links to a site that hosts NC17 fic and art. La.

Also, re: Cassie - the CafePress problem was generated because people who don't like her complained to them, and she *was* using the GAP trademark (see my icon for what the image looked like) and trademarked terms like HOBBIT ("pervy hobbit fancier"). Of course, in the world of irony, we now have someone else using the Still Not King line on some Viggo merchandise. Sigh, it works all ways.


But does anybody in fandom actually attempt to make money off it?

Well, Jenkins tells a story (I think it was Jenkins but it might have been Camille Bacon-Smith) about a Trek ficwriter back in fanzine days who got people to send her money that was supposed to be used to distribute an ongoing story, but she apparently applied it to her rent. Or something like that. Big scandal, at any rate.

Proportionally, more money used to change hands back in the old days for fic, because of the costs of producing and distributing fanzines. It's still standard that you have to pay for a fanzine just to cover the print costs. With the advent of the net, that direct relationship of cash for distribution is gone, although I could make an argument that the folks making money off fandom now are ISPs and domain providers.

Nowadays, I see money changing hands for compilations of fanvids, because again the reproduction and distribution costs are fairly high. I'm talking about dvd-quality sets of fanvids, often containing dozens of vids in multiple fandoms. The software and hardware required to put them together is costly, and of course it takes time to burn the dvds and money to ship them out. I love that these dvd sets are available, but it does make me a little nervous from an infringement point-of-view. Not, again, that anyone is ever likely to mistake the Woad Society's compilation of vids as anything official or approved.

[splash the cat]:

Faboo response.

The thing that gets me the most in these arguments against fan fiction is the sense that a fan does not have a right to reinterpret someone's work, or engage with it in a way the creator might not have intended. I mean, if I spend time and effort (and, for that matter, money) to engage with a work, be it a book or a movie or a tv show, I think I have some right to interpret that work within my personal frame of reference. I don't watch or read just to be fed a story. I want to *interact* with that story, not just sit back and be led along by the nose. The best works are those that engage me on multiple levels, not just expect me to take the creator's views at face value.

And I don't just see this in the context of fan fiction (though it's where it is most obvious). I've talked to more than one writer who cannot abide by the notion that the reader will take anything from the story other than what the writer put into it. It seems silly to me. Sure, I may miss a writer's point, but that's the risk a writer takes when they cut the apron strings and send their story out into the world.

Now I agree that if a writer is against having their work reinterpreted in fan fiction and posted in a fanzine or online, then yes, it's rude to do so (and that's the reason I stick to media fandom). But at the same time, if that person is expecting that no one will be reinterpreting their work in some way shape or form, I think they're sorely mistaken.

[ex greythist387]:

From what I've seen, fic feedback usually goes to the message boards/forums where fics are posted, because that's easiest. The reputation of an archive corresponds somewhat with the reviews posted there: stories (whatever their artistic merit) attract a lot of quick "OMGWTFBBQ! Post more soon!!" "reviews," for example. To be fair, sometimes that's in response to review whores pleading (or commanding) that readers leave x number of reviews before they'll put up the next chapter. There's a bit of coterie-reviewing -- same few people, always praise -- on topic-specific archives, and I see it a bit on FictionAlley, too. lj comments for fics posted elsewhere tend to be positive because even dim people understand that it's the writer's own space. The reviews that show up on Y! Groups (not something I see much of) are either short and gushy, or opinionated enough to spark flamewars. And so on.

Negative feedback. Oh, yes, and only sometimes by Anonymous Coward, and sometimes ad hominem for no apparent reason. The immediacy of online "communication," forethought optional, has particular power in this context. I've seen a few writers declare sadly or smugly on lj that they shouted down a negative reviewer via email. Some delete strongly negative reviews (on sites that allow it), which seems unfair. Many seem to ignore it and press on.

...and some argue back in public. I confess to drawing the sample complaints from an extensive authorial reply-to-the-aether I read recently. It isn't the only such I've seen, but it's currently unlocked.... The review in question is the long one by Nadia here. Depending on how curious you are :) sampling the reviews for the five or so chapters prior should show their very split nature, irrelevant of the chapters themselves. The only unusual aspect, I'd say, is the length of review this writer's work elicits.

This (collectively) isn't the first time the author has had review issues; see also here (link goes mid-thread) and its spillover on the following page, up to where one of the FA mods threatened to penalize people. (I'm not a mod, thankfully.)



I generally try not to reply to criticism/comment on my work for the simple fact that I don't want to alienate anybody by seeming unwilling to accept comment, and also because I do feel that once a story is launched, it should speak for itself.

On the other hand, being notoriously narcissistic, I can be lured into dialogue against my better intentions. *g*

But I also understand the rules of etiquette are very different in fandom--actually, they're shifting in the pro world too, simply because the internet has plunged us, willy nilly, into the modern equivalent of 16th-century London and we're all poets and patrons and players living in each other's pockets and attending one another's salons.

It's a cool kind of transparency, but also a scary one.


Feedback varies by content, tone and volume, depending on the forum. A lot of fandoms use message boards to post fic, and the feedback is generally just replies to the post, most often positive responses. Every once in a while someone may have a critical response, but the community etiquette will determine whether that's allowed/appropriate.

LJ is often used for informal posting (i.e., snippets of unfinished work, or WIPs), and the responses to those may include critical comments pointing out canonical inconsistencies, typos, etc. But it depends on the author and her attitude towards it. LJ is often used for formal posting of finished & edited stories, as well, particularly for fic written in fandoms that are new or small and don't have archives or mailing lists associated with them.

When I started in fandom, fic was distributed via mailing lists and newsgroups, and therefore all the feedback I got in the first few years came in email. That varied from short supportive notes to detailed commentary -- often from people I ended up friends with online. Email feedback seems to be less common now, or at least it is in the fandoms I'm operating in.

I've been writing fic for five years, and have posted dozens of stories in three fandoms. I've never received a flame. Sometimes I've gotten mild disagreement about a particular action a character might take. From a few friends I have received detailed commentary, both positive and critical. I've written abortions, character deaths, and all sorts of angst, but for whatever reason I've never inspired the kind of loathing that gives rise to such vehement responses. I'm a little disappointed by this. *grin*


Great post, and I wholeheartedly agree with most of it. I think there is a slight difference in co-opting material that's been incorporated into myth over the centuries and borrowing a character someone created last week. It may be the time factor, or maybe it's just whether or not the originator is still alive.

I do, however, miss the days when fanfic was confined to fanzines. You know, when there were editors who actually filtered the stuff, and artists who enhanced it, and all the work was a labor of love on typewriters or carbon copy machines. When finding fanfic was a little harder, and required some effort on the reader's part. When fandoms were smaller. The proliferation of the net and archives/lists/sites pretty much guarantees any crapola in the world gets put out there--and is often encouraged--and sometimes gives fanfic a black eye.

On the other hand, it's thanks to the net that fanfic is more easily available, in such a wide variety, and even if the signal to noise ratio is exceedingly high, there's a lot of good stuff out there too. It makes me happy when I read it, even if I rarely write it anymore.


I do, however, miss the days when fanfic was confined to fanzines. You know, when there were editors who actually filtered the stuff, and artists who enhanced it, and all the work was a labor of love on typewriters or carbon copy machines.

There is a common misperception that online fic is not edited and zine fic is. In my experience I am just as likely to find poorly edited work in a zine as I am online. In fact, maybe I'm spoiled by reading in only a select few fandoms where there are some very good writers, but in general I've seen much higher quality work online than I have in zines. A good beta-reader is basically an editor. Sure, some betas are nothing more than cheerleaders, but then, from what I can see by the quality of much zine-fic, so are many zine 'editors.'


Thank you for that. After you said your opinions might make you unpopular, I was a little scared to click the link, but I'm glad I did. I'm glad that there are "real authors" that aren't anti-fanfiction. I write it for fun. I'm not out of adulation, or publication, or any of that. I'm just having a good time. Same reason I roleplay.

I will not, however, put anything out on the web based on the world of an author who has asked for people not to. Hasn't said that people can't play in her sandbox, only that she doesn't want it out there on the web. And I can respect that. So my stories in her sandbox will remain in my computer, and nowhere else.


actually, you know, i look for new authors (nobodies) all the time. finding a new, unknown author is like unwrapping a surprise gift: you don't know a thing about it, and at the end, it can be a joy unequalled with a known author.

i find, personally, the idea that a new author would write fanfic kind of unappealing, because all their thoughts and ideas are simply falling into a processing line of someone else's fiction. sure, they could slash it up, they could do whatever, but still, to a certain point you're just repeating what an author has done or said, even if you go different ways with it. i just don't understand the reason that you would want to do that.

(for observation, i see using historical figures that are then fictionalised as a different think. maybe different sides of the same coin, but one, imo, involves more creativity and thought than the other, though i am sure people will disagree.)

also, for me, the problem with fanfic is that there is no quality control. sure, there is no rejection, and it is all about the fun... but it's also shockingly written for the most part, and utterly, utterly pointless.

least to me. mainly i was just replying tot he new author bit.


I don't mean new, published authors.

I mean specifically people who write original fiction and post it online. No quality control there.

And people who want to noodle around a bit with writing as a hobby and don't want to go after the grind of publishing? One place they find a community is in fanfiction.

More power to them. Why is it acceptable somehow for somebody to mess around on the guitar with friends, but if you write, you must be serious about it?

I wrote for myself, for fun, for my friends, for years. I'm obsessed enough to want to make a living at it. But that doesn't mean i think everybody who wants to write needs to be.


K, now I write fanfic.

The fanfic I happen to have scattered here and there easily available is X Files. Primarily Krycek. Because here was a bally fascinating character who *wasn't* *being* *used*. There were stories that needed to be told. And, ok, so he had a gun to my head at the time.

In my view, I was actually following in a long and time-honoured tradition. The Aeneid is basically a fanfic riffing on Homer's Iliad.

Of course, I'm generally thought to be insane. My brother, sister and myself actually cross-overed LotR, Cities of Gold and Robin Hood, referencing The Goon Show on the way. That was fun. We also improvised radio plays about our cats. We had no TV - we made our own fun.

I have a lot of my writing. I've pretty much written fanfic and roleplay posts that play in other universes for -- yeep, seven years -- and in that time my writing has improved beyond all recognition.

Plus, I don't agree that you're just writing what the author has already done. For instance, in GGK's Tigana there's a throwaway mention of two of Siferval's soldiers who are executed. I could, from the clues GGK gives in the text, extrapolate Barbadian culture and write the story of those two soldiers. Or of their families. It would still be fanfic, because I'm playing in his copyrighted world - but it wouldn't be anything he's written. Who, me, anal retentive memory? Never.

Re the quality control part...well, to be honest, the quality control of profic isn't always all it's cracked up to be. But I'll stop myself there because I can just see the soapbox underneath the noose. And the original and not-so-original characters have the pointed instruments out again.


you're obviously someone who is reasonably well read and seemingly intelligent, which is lovely. i hope you enjoy your fanfic writing, and i hope you have fun with it.

and yes, you are right that most profic is shit. that's because most pro fiction is retreading the ground of previous writers, and playing things nicely within borders without any originality. and yes, it is a problem.

now, however, when new/young writers spend their time writing fanfic, they do not create within themselves an immediate step away from that mentality. they simply continue it, and worse, they continue it with characters and settings and other such things that have been created, regardless of their level of success. now i'm not saying that this means they're useless, that they'll write things that are unreadable, or without anything redeemable in it.

however, i will say, that one of the biggest problems for new writers is that they imitate authors they admire. it's one of the things they have to work through, to find a fully developed voice. and what fanfic is, is imitation -- and worse, an encouraged imitation. why would you want to encourage new writers -- indeed, any writer, because as you say, professionally sold fiction is often repeating what has already been done in styles with very little voice -- why would you want to encourage that?

[ellen fremedon]:

benpeek, what do you think of historical fiction? Do you believe writing historical fiction hinders an author's development of an individual voice? Because historical fiction is probably about the closest parallel to writing most fanfic, especially fanfic for visual media: a writer starts out with people and events that her readers probably know something about, and tries to make a coherent story of those events through the eyes of the people involved. She may have to reconcile contradictory versions of the story, or extrapolate where the record of events is incomplete.

Her choices of viewpoint, style, diction -- all the things that make up voice -- are dictated by the material, yes, but no more and no less than they would be in any other kind of fiction writing.

Fanfic isn't all pastiche, any more than historical fiction is. It's not even possible to write a true pastiche of a movie or a TV show -- there's no prose in the original, no written voice to imitate. And even in book-based fanfic, writers don't generally consider themselves bound by the original author's stylistic choices -- a Harry Potter fanfic is as likely to be a pastiche of Jane Austen as of J.K. Rowling.

(And, of course, even if all fanfic were pastiche, that wouldn't be a bad thing. Writing pastiche is a traditional exercise for learning about voice, and for good reason. Simply telling novice writers to sound like themselves isn't necessarily helpful advice. A writer may not know *how* to sound like herself until she's figured out how other writers sound like themselves -- until she's had enough practice writing, consciously and deliberately, in the style of other writers to figure out what mechanisms Austen or Le Guin or whoever use to convey their voice to the reader.)

[cheshyre]:How about some other examples, outside "fanfic".

Ever hear of Wide Sargasso Sea. Written in the 1960s, it tells the story of a relatively minor character in Jane Eyre and provides her backstory and viewpoint.

Wicked is currently popular, about the villain in Baum's Wizard of Oz. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is one of zillions of riffs on Shakespeare.

None of these are imitations, even if they do reuse characters and settings.

That's not to say there isn't fanfic which does try to mimic the original style, but I could point to shelves of commercial Sherlock Holmes fiction to say that even that is not necessarily a bad thing.

[ben peek]:

there will always be exceptions to everything said. that, however, doesn't change my point and make it less valid.

as for the books and play you list, i haven't read the first, but i don't consider the second two to be fanfic. the reasons are fairly obvious to me, but then i suspect so are your reasons for listing it, so i won't bother detailing them. but, that said, i don't consider WICKED to be a good book.

i'm always bemused by the comparions fanfic people give for their work. the aeneid, paradise lost, in your case tom stoppard's play... none of those things are fanfic, and yet they're dragged out as examples to somehow justify writing fanfic. to me it shows a rather large insecurity, and in some cases, a lack of understanding the work being used for comparison.

the truth is, fanfic doesn't need justification. it is, it exists, it's there.

the only literary work that compares properly to fanfic is work for hire work: star wars novels, dr who, star trek, x-files. in short, the franchise work. and that work isn't worth a toss in the woods as far as furthering literature, no matter what good points an individual book may contain. (they are sometimes written by very skilled authors.)


The thing I find interesting about fanfic is the way it almost creates a 'meta-canon' (which is either a highly pretentious coining I just made, or a weapon from a 1982 issue of Rom: Space Knight) and how people's use of fanfic almost seems to warp how they view the original text. I tend to notice when people's opinions of characters aren't based on the original text, but on what has been done with them subsequently in fic.


I had heard the term [fanon] before, but hadn't really thought about it. I think it's interesting in re: the Internet in that there is a division between the people that are aware of and incorporate fanon, and those that don't. The interaction between the two groups is sure to be problematic.


Thank you, Sarah.

Do you mind if I share this with Cassie (who, by the way, is going to have something published soon)?

[matociquala]: Not at all. This is the Internet, after all. Stick your foot in your mouth here, and the whole world knows it.
[glyneth]: *heh* She hasn't advertised it much. I think she has a short story in a compilation, and she's working on a YA book, IIRC. Been a while since I talked to her about it.

[cofax7]:Thank you for this. Kit once posted a marvelous essay about the specific set of skills one develops in writing fan fiction, and how and why they are both different than and complementary to the skills needed for original fiction. Unfortunately she doesn't appear to have her blog archives indexed. But one of the things she talked about was the use of canon and character continuity. Canon, as used by ficwriters, refers to the source product. Canon for a writer of non-derivative fiction might include their own backstory that they've developed, as well as the history of their universe or our own history. How does an embedded reference to, say, King Lear in a modern novel differ from a reference in a Buffy story to the events of The Gift? Both rely on the readers' knowledge of events outside the text of the story to bring some emotional or thematic resonance into play.

Character continuity is necessary regardless of whose character you're talking about, and an original fiction writer won't get much respect if their character isn't recognizable from one scene to another, any more than a ficwriter would.

The things I have learned from writing fanfiction include: keeping to a consistent authorial pov; plotting a long complicated story with a multitude of characters; developing backstory for original characters; playing with story structure and narrative voice; working to balance plot, language, and character development in such a way as to keep the story moving forward and the reader engaged. While the basic universe for the story is already established, I don't find my creativity hindered by that. It's a starting point, and I get to watch the source product (I only write for media fandoms) and say, "Yeah, but what about?" or "I wonder if she ever did..." or "If they'd chosen to go that way instead, what would have happened?"

I was lucky enough to chair a panel of ficwriters at the official Farscape convention last year (yes, the official con: the Jim Henson Company is incredibly generous with the fans). And one of the questions came from the executive producer of the show, who wanted to know what we would do if the production team asked us to stop writing. It was a good question, and my first response was, "please don't make us."

But my more thoughtful response is that fan creativity is another way of engaging with the text. A producer would love to have hundreds of people writing detailed analyses of their work, the types of analysis one finds via mutant_allies, for instance. But there's a very fuzzy line between that analysis and fan creativity -- I find myself crossing it constantly, working back and forth between critique and production.

Why does Daniel have a piano? If the writers decide to end a pregnancy, how could they do it and keep the characters consistent with what we've seen? What is it about these people that keeps them so lucky?

So, yeah, anyway. I believe that fanfic and fanart is the ultimate act of respect for someone's creation. But it's more than mimeo or rote copying, as some of the commenters on haikujaguar's LJ seemed to think. And, as you say, while there's plenty of crap, there are writers in fandom (troyswann, _maayan, Yahtzee, cesperanza, nwhepcat, among others) who are as skilled at plotting, character, and world-building as anyone publishing non-derivative fiction (or possibly fiction where the serial numbers are more obscured) for actual money.

[peg kerr]:I was very interested to read your comments (and thanks for the nice mentions, too!) While hopping through links on this topic, I ran across haikujaguar's stern condemnation of fanfic.

I have very mixed feelings about fanfic, as you've probably guessed, but I'm probably closer to your opinion than haikujaguar's. I do try to encourage fanfic writers to try to explore their own writing universes. I disagree with her that writing fanfic only hurts your own writing. There are too many professional writers who started out as fanfic writers for that to be true.

Thanks for your thoughts.


Yes. I mean, I have.... I think it's impolite in the extreme to write fanfic in the universe of a living author who's asked it not be done.

On the other hand, if you just want to write, and you don't mind dabbling, and you're looking for the joy and community and the fun part of writing as opposed to the oh-god-I-have-to-write-1500-words-every-day-between-now-and-September-or-I'm-in-breach-of-contract part...

And on another level, I can't see how my Kit Marlowe story, which involves a passel of wacky time traveling historians, isn't on some level Connie Willis fanfic. Although I didn't sue her characters and her setting, I did lift a big chunk of one of her basic premises.

And, you know. There is it in the sidebar, for all the world to see, and I got paid quite nicely for it. I feel a bit of a hypocrite saying "Well, I can steal, because I file off the serial numbers."

Maybe it comes down to "Good artists imitate; great artists steal." (Not that I consider myself a great artist, but you know what I mean.


On the other hand, if you just want to write, and you don't mind dabbling, and you're looking for the joy and community and the fun part of writing as opposed to the oh-god-I-have-to-write-1500-words-every-day-between-now-and-September-or-I'm-in-breach-of-contract part...

Thank you so much for saying that. That issue is exactly my frustration in these debates, that some people simply will not understand that I don't want to be a professional writer, and that my fan fiction writings have nothing to do with wanting to be a professional writer. I have a job, one that I'm quite good at, and actually, I chose to teach at a community college instead of a university because I didn't want the pressures of writing to a deadline. My fan fiction stories are done entirely because I enjoy doing them and hope others might enjoy reading them, and I'm not looking at them as a gateway to anything more, any more than I look at my essays on fan fiction as a gateway to academic writing, having been there and done that.

astolat: Thanks for a wonderfully articulated argument. Now I can put this in my memories and just throw the URL at anyone who brings out the anti-fanfic spiel again. Yay! *g*


As a sometime -- ok, still slash fanfic writer -- I thought I'd slip my fourpence halfpenny (taking into account the exchange rate) under the door.

I feel that fanfiction has as much a place as the oral tradition of telling fairytales before Andersen and the Grimms wrote them down. Plus fiction such as (BEWARE NC-17) Amirin's Tails, Torch's Ghosts (which I just realised I need to reread bc I'd forgotten it was so good] and unChuck's Shadows and Spite shouldn't be unwritten.

I started publishing fanfic in 1998, I believe. I'd been writing it long before that - I just never knew there were people who wanted to read it. 1998 was also the year I joined TitanicRoleplay.

I played Ruth for a while and took her beyond the film. Since then I have been on a number of other RPGs including a Sleepy Hollow one. These I credit not only with giving me the best friends I could ever ask for but also with improving my writing beyond all my expectations. Oh, and the idea for a novel.

It's kind of strange thinking about the question of fanfic for STI, for two reasons. OK, make that three.

1) These characters and situations grew out of fanfic and rpgs. How am I to deny anyone else that possibility? Particularly when I crib from Will and Emily so much?

2) They'd be bloody *interested*. Nick would probably insist on wandering over and making comments at the poor authors.

3) I know what happens to these guys and their descendants inside out. There's only three, maybe four more books could come from the universe anyway.

OK, I lied, there's four.

4) *I* still RPG with them. Hell, I have three fanfics effectively (alternative universes) sitting on my computer. If anyone wants to write fanfic, we just say, 'OK, but we did it first.' Uhh, is that narcissistic?

And, as EB said, fanfic authors don't expect to get paid. Personally, I enjoy sharing sandboxes. And, you never know, fanfic authors might actually be able to treat them well. Me, I'm horrid to characters. I should be had up for character abuse really.


It occurs to me, actually, that I used to write fanfiction as a teenager, although I had no idea that's what it was, and I never showed it to anybody, and I had no idea such things as fanfiction, zines, or fan communities existed.

That's probably why I find myself in the position of defending it now, because I can see how hose stories were a gateway into the stories I write now, even if the ywere tremendously terrifying hurt/comfort Mary Sue stuff.

Which makes me wonder if h/c isn't the primal form of fiction, somehow. Because if it's what unsophisticated 13-year-olds naturally generate.... *g*

Like primitive art.

[amanuensis1]: *shrugs* I've gone from writing (unpublished) original erotica to writing it in a fanfiction universe, just because I fell in love with that universe. Am I hurting myself by not writing publishable material right now? Hey, I wasn't submitting the original stuff anywhere either. Whatever makes us happy, y'know. ^_^



I'm a writer in RL. I also write fannishly under my lj username. Both are intensely fun. They feed each other.

I get annoyed when I hear people suggest that fandom is a waste of a "real writer"'s time. Why should anyone else be telling me what to do with my time?

Anyway. Excellent post. Thank you.