Author Pokes Fanfic Hive! Film at 11!

From Fanlore
Jump to: navigation, search
Title: Author Pokes Fanfic Hive! Film at 11!
Creator: John Scalzi
Date(s): May 5, 2010
Medium: online
External Links: Author Pokes Fanfic Hive! Film at 11!; archive link; Wayback
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Author Pokes Fanfic Hive! Film at 11! is a short 2010 post by John Scalzi.

He wrote it in response to Fan-Fiction and Moral Conundrums and the post's discussion by fans and pro-writers.

It is the 144 comments to Scalzi's post that make up the bulk of the discussion.

Scalzi's Post

The author in question being Diana Gabaldon. Naturally, Fandom Wank has the most interesting wrap-up of the tizzy, with its patented snarklicious comment threads. Also of interest: Kate Nepveu’s open letter to professionally-published authors who despise fanfic of their own works.

This is a lovely excuse for me to link once more to my own personal policy on fanfic adaptations. Not that it’s much of an issue for me; aside from the occasional one-off there doesn’t seem to be much Scalzi-based fanfic. I try not to pout about that.

Some Topics Discussed in the Comments

Excerpts from the Comments at the Post


Well pfft. Now I want to go write a tender, angsty hurt/comfort fanfic involving John Perry and a Consu. Just because.

(No, I don’t, not really. But you must admit, it would write itself! In a very, very bad way!)


I live in California, which takes its name from a 16th century fanfic based on a series of trashy fantasy romance novels from the 14th century.

I don’t think fanfic is going away any time soon.


... I got a great kick out of this. I had no idea fanfic was such a hot button topic, nor did I know that it was equivalent to white slavery. Learn somethin’ new every day, I guess.

This reminds me of a dust-up on Melanie Rawn’s board some ten years ago about how it was illegal for people to use her character’s names as handles in online games and she demanded it not be done. Except… she uses a lot of common names in her work.[1]

I named my druid Sarra anyway. Rebel yell!



Kate seems to think authors can’t stop fanfic, but she’s wrong.

There are several concrete steps that authors can take to discourage fanfic:

First, no maps. If you include a map in your book, you’re only going to encourage fans to write about the guy who discovered that ‘there be dragons,’ and the adventures of their dragonkin offspring.

Second, no genealogies. And especially avoid entries such as Lord Kieran, 23rd Marquis of the Dragonmarch.

Background factual details create – to borrow a legal term – an attractive nuisance. The worst offender by far in this regard was CJ Cherryh’s Angel With a Sword, and the subsequent Merovingen Nights shared world anthologies, which included appendices that detailed the setting’s geography, politics, flora and fauna, and technology.

Third, bring your C game. You want to write just badly enough that people don’t want to read your work, but not so bad that it encourages readers to do better. This is tricky, and requires an advanced mastery of the craft, but I know that you, dear author (by whom I mean any authors who may wind up reading this, and not necessarily our esteemed host in particular, who has a most rational attitude towards fanfic) , are eminently capable of pulling it off. If I may borrow an example from television, I’ll refer you to Cleopatra 2525, which, while better than it deserved to be, seemed primarily created so that Sam Raimi would have a ready supply of Sarge/Hel/Cleo slash fiction close at hand.

[Gray Woodland]:

I’m firmly in the pro-fanfic camp, even though I write little or none at present because of the pressing weight of original stuff. Nice policy on your part. It’s a shame those authors who’d like to be extra liberal about it are forced by current legal doctrine to be… careful.

Interesting point: Galbadon’s squick seems to stem partly from a kind of character-realism. I ought to sympathise with that, since I also consider characters to be more than mere literary conceits, and I’m thinking the reason I don’t is that she doesn’t take her realism far enough.

When I tell a story, I naturally tell it from a viewpoint embedded in its world. That automatically, in my eyes, means that it’s remarkably akin to the implicit narrator’s fanficcing of local celebrities or characters of legend. The thought that other people might do the same, is then not so much squicky as obvious.

Actually, a fair few of my characters have serious (or comedy) issues with the dumb in-world stories and versions of themselves that grow up about their early exploits. Mercedes Lackey and Mike Resnick have had rather a lot of fun with similar themes, as I recall.

Even for the original author, the character is being written about, not written. Of course there will be other fictional instances of them! But, frankly, that Corwin/Grey Roger/Slipstick Libby slashfic isn’t really apt to have a hell of an impact on even its audience’s baseline visualization of the originals, unless it somehow brings out whole new levels of literary truth about the participants. If it does, well now…

[PrivateIron]: The fact that [Diana Gabaldon's] main character was intentionally named after a Dr. Who character and the actor who played that character…priceless.

I can understand why some authors don’t like fanfics. This is their life’s work. I respect both sides of the issue. I think Scalzi is begging for people to write fanfics. I actually think it would be more entertaining to write fanfics with Scalzi as the main character. A heroic epic about aleft wing balding middle aged writer who saves the world.

BTW, I read the first of Gabaldon’s books and I really liked it. I also like her podcasts on her website. She is a very intelligent woman. I am a typical guy therefore I am repulsed by romance novels. When I read the amazon reviews of her books it was the 1 star reviews that got me to read her books. All her 5 star reviews were from women who were in love with the main character (they say he is the man every woman wants and every man wants to be!). Yuck chick book.

Then the 1 star reviews didn’t like the books because it was way too violent. The violence balance out the chick/romance so it is manly enough to read.


I actually think it would be more entertaining to write fanfics with Scalzi as the main character. A heroic epic about aleft wing balding middle aged writer who saves the world.

That’s RPF, its own category. Someday, someone cleverer than I will write Clash of the Titans-style fic with pro- and anti-fanfic authors playing the gods to anti- and pro-fanfic ‘mortal’ fans, arguing about this on the Internets.

John Scalzi: As for the real person fiction, well, er, yeah. I spend all my time facing a computer. It’s not that exciting.
[mythago]: I understand the emotional reaction to fanfic – feelings of misappropriation, the fact that some of it is poorly written AND clueless (“Yes, I know that I’Thakil is a gentle celibate pacifist but I wrote this totally hot scene where he goes nuts and erotically tortures Gary Stu!”), but happily, it’s easy enough not to read it.
[lucyp]: I was lucky enough to meet Diana Gabaldon at a conference last year, and I found her to be a lovely person, warm and unpretentious. Whether or not you agree with her conclusions about fanfic, I think she presents her case in a moderate, friendly, and reasoned manner.

I too can sympathize with the character realism thing. I mean, it’s writing, and writing is a very personal act. In some sense those characters are you. These authors just need to accept that the characters people write about in fanfic are no more the characters in their own text than an actor in a movie is actually the historical figure he or she is portraying. They may walk the same, they may talk the same, but they aren’t the same: they’re a combination of the portrayer and the portrayed.

The best part of fanfic is the creative community that springs up around it. I think that is art at its most fundamental level, the sharing and reinterpretation of ideas.

[A Different Jess]:

You know, I kind of don’t get the angry-ness about fanfic. I mean, I get the “Respect my copyright and livelihood”, yeah, duh, but…

Dude. You have FANS. That love something you’ve done so much that they spend hours and hours trying to stretch it out just a little longer. How is that not just insanely flattering and ego-puffing and humbling all at once? To have your brain-babies so loved by strangers?

Even if the art sucks, it comes from a place of love, you know?


You know, John, you might not get fanfic based on your written work, but I’m sure there’s got to be some SGU fanfic out there, especially given that SG-1 and SGA were enormously popular among fanfiction writers.

But of course there must be a slash pairing. If you didn’t provide a slash pairing, you’re much less likely to get ficced. (Said pairing preferably to be composed of two attractive white males between 20 and 40, with a bantery or frenemies-type relationship.


well, I did say “preferably”. The big slash pairing in SG-1 was Jack O’Neill/Daniel Jackson, and O’Neill was (IIRC) in his mid-40s when the show started. But hotness can trump ageism; it rarely seems to trump racism, sadly.)

[Lanta in reply to cofax]:

You do realise that not all fanfiction is slash, right?

[m in reply to lucyp]:

...she might be the nicest lady possible, however, when she made the comparisons and inferences she did of fanfiction and the people who write it, she made a HUGE mistake and insulted a lot of people (some of whom are actually her fellow professional writers, so she might not have much fun at the next conference she attends) so, no, not so much with the reasoned.

Reasoned implies, for one, you don’t equate fanfiction with violent/criminal assaults or the people who write it with being perverts. (Which, yes, she so very much did)


You know what I don’t understand? Why anyone who has the desire to write something would spend hours upon hours of valuable writing time on something you will never be able to sell. You might not even get to post it.

I want to be a pro writer. I don’t have time to pursue silly things like playing in someone’s world. If you are that hot about spending time writing. Do yourself a favor and get creative.

[Rachel Brown to Christopher]:

Not all people who write want to earn a living doing so, any more than all people who cook want to be professional chefs. Many people practice crafts, including writing, solely for the fun of doing them and sometimes sharing them for free.

Also, many pro writers write for both fun and profit. John Scalzi, for instance, blogs largely if not solely because he enjoys blogging. A number of pro writers write fanfic for fun.

It’s fine if you prefer to devote your own writing time solely to saleable material. But it’s a bit killjoy to criticize other writers for enjoying themselves. There’s nothing actually wrong about doing things for reasons other than to make money.

[John Scalzi in reply to Christoper]:

“Why anyone who has the desire to write something would spend hours upon hours of valuable writing time on something you will never be able to sell.”

Leaving aside the cogent point that this describes most writers’ first three or four novels, I’ll note that I, not exactly squishy when it comes to monetizing my writing, very recently spent several weeks writing a novel that it was entirely possible I might not have been able to sell. You may recall me chatting about it.

Point is, there’s nothing wrong writing for reasons other than money.

[John C. Bunnell]: Some writers of original fiction seem not to understand the “shared creation” itch at all (Anne Rice, Robin Hobb). And some writers in the professional mediaverse (notably Lee Goldberg) seem not to understand that shared-creation sandboxes are, in the Internet age, kind of inherently fuzzy at the edges. [This is becoming truer all the time, as more fanfic-aware writers have been infiltrating Hollywood over the last decade or so, and the mediaverses themselves have begun to interact more openly with the fanfiction world.]
[Stephen Granade]:

Ms. Gabaldon wasn’t really all that polite, analogizing fanfic authors to a creepy middle-aged stalker telling a mom about his desire to get it on with her young daughter. She made a very questionable argument regarding how fanfic should perhaps be swept away because it’s mostly not very good, and besides, a lot of it is porn. She also played fast and loose with the illegality of fanfic, making a black-and-white statement about it being illegal when the truth is far more messy.

In short, I don’t think she was either very polite or making very good arguments. I’d have much rather she left it at, “Please don’t write fanfic about my books. I don’t like it.”


Twain used metaphors to say people who would make money off his works are comparable to people stealing crops off a farmer’s land. And it worked. Congress extended copyright terms.

What Diana did is no different than Twain. She used metaphor to explain how she viewed something about copyright law and how people acted around it.

The main thing here seems to be that people took Diana’s metaphors as if she intended them as directed personal insults, rather than as her attempt to present her view of how fan fiction fit in copyright law.

Her understanding of copyright law is legally wrong. But as I read what she posted, I don’t read it as personal, directed insults at fanfiction writers, I read it as her attempt to convey how she sees fanfic within copyright law.

Some took it as personal insult directed at them as individuals, and dogpiling ensued.

What I’ve read of her posts, I can read as moderate, friendly, and reasoned. At least, its no less moderate, friendly, and reasoned than, say Mark Twain’s speech to congress explaining his reasons for asking copyright terms be extended for perpetuity. Twain was legally wrong because the constitution requires that terms be finite. But he viewed term expiration as theft, and that’s how he explained it before congress. That was his worldview. It was legally incompatible with the constitution, but it was his worldview.

But in trying to explain her worldview on fanfic, it seems that some took Diana’s metaphors as directed insults, rather than as explaining her case against fanfic.

The dogpiling has nothing to do with whether she was correct legally or not. The dogpiling had everything to do with some folks taking her worldview metaphors as personal attacks on them as individuals.

She was no less moderate, polite, or reasoned than Twain before congress. They both happened to be wrong from a legal standpoint, but that’s a different issue.


If she doesn’t like it, then that’s fine. Just say so. I think that Terry Goodkind has said such. Did he pitch a fit though? Does anyone know? I think it’s perfectly fine for a writer to say that he/she doesn’t like fanfic.

Yeah, there’s lots of horrible fanfic out there. There’s lots of great stuff too. When you find the great stuff, that’s when you go “Why isn’t this author published?” Some actually are. There are goldmines out there on the internet just waiting to be read.

I think what we have to remember is that fanfic is all about fun. Reading for fun, writing for fun. It should never be about making money, because that would be wrong. People like to fantasize. Isn’t that a good thing?

People don’t write fanfic about Scalzi’s books? Really? Huh. Kind of thought there would be some. Maybe someone needs to suggest something for Yuletide this year.


if we include [ The Harry Potter Lexicon Trial ] in the class of all that is fan fiction, then it is possible to see that not all fan fiction as completely harmless, completely legal, or completely moral.

I’m not agreeing with Diana. She’s legally wrong in several counts about copyright law. And I don’t think fanfiction people are lazy or immoral.

but I didn’t take waht she said personally. and I do know that there are some instances of fan fiction that went to far, broke the law, and tried to cash in on something the courts declared to be infringement.

So, it isn’t entirely outrageous to at least allow that some people have a darker view of fan fiction than others. Illegal? In some cases, yes Immoral? In some cases, yes. Lazy? Meh, who cares if you’re already in the set of illegal and immoral?

If Diana is guilty of coloring fanfiction as a whole as clad in black, fan fiction here seems to be trying to portray themselves as clad in pure white, and ignoring that fan fiction has turned into active infringement on previous cases.

Has anyone who attacked Diana, especially the biggest dogs on the pile, come out and said “yeah, OK, some people who write fan fiction have gone too far and legally infringed on the author’s work and the courts had to order them to stop”?

I don’t think so.

So, like I said, if you’re gonna hang the rabbit, then you’ve got to hang to dogs.

[Adela]: Should I conclude that any statements about the legal status of fanfic are based on American copyright law and an American culture of interpretation for copyright concepts.

DG’s big mistake is she’s too wordy. Say as little as possible, and don’t use analogy because guaranteed, someone’s going to get offended by at least one of them. Were it me, I would have said, Hey, guys, I have a conundrum: I’m opposed to people ficcing my characters, but I heard about this charity auction that so far as I know is legit and for a good cause. I have my reasons for being opposed to fanfic and request you don’t do it with my characters, but what about this charity? How do I handle this?

That’s all that really needed to be said, honestly. But having read 4 or 5 of her novels, “concise” isn’t a word I’d use to describe her style of communication.

Erotica writer:

Gabaldon, in her rant, strikes me like one of those rabidly anti-gay-rights congressmen who gets caught with a male prostitute.

One of her complaints about fanfic is that a lot of it is full of sex and is thus icky. But her own novel Outlander is thinly disguised S&M and H/C erotic romance (mixed with historical fiction).

Gabaldon has a chip on her shoulder about her books being shelved in the Romance section, and I’ve heard that in one of her books, her protagonist complains about how awful “bodice-rippers” are. There’s an element here of, “When I write it, it’s okay, but when other people write it, it’s disgusting” that I find hypocritical.

[John C. Bunnell]:

The thing is, in the case of mediaverses and other deliberately designed collaborative story-milieus, fanfiction is only one more layer of collaboration. But in the case of personal-creation settings (read: most prose novels), having fanwriters forcibly turn “your” universe into a collaborative setting is potentially scary on two levels. One is the “ownership” level; suddenly your characters aren’t entirely yours anymore. The second, though, is the fear that someone else may turn out to be better than you are at telling stories about those characters — and may, as a result, siphon readers off from your stories to theirs.

And that fear isn’t entirely unrealistic. I have seen no formal studies on the subject, but I would be willing to bet that given a comparison of fanfic-story hit counts vs. hard copies of genre novels sold, there are a considerable number of fanfic writers out there today whose readerships are larger than many popular “midlist” genre fiction writers.

Now as a practical matter, I know of no case in which a print author has actually had a career short-circuited in that way, nor do I think we’re likely to see one. But I can certainly understand prose authors’ concerns in this regard, and I would generally encourage fanfic writers to respect the wishes of authors who ask that fanfic in their personally created worlds not be circulated.


““When I write it, it’s okay, but when other people write it, it’s disgusting””

Actually, this has a lot to do with sexual agency and consent. When a sex partner agrees to performing a particular sexual act, that doesn’t mean they consent to EVERY sex act (a slippery slope argument used against rape victims).

Gabaldon created how her characters should be used in a sexual nature. That agency belongs to her and her alone. To take those characters and put them into other sexual situations against their – ergo Gabaldons – consent, is removing their – her – agency from the sexual act.


Gabaldon- I don’t like it when people appropriate my characters for their own masturbatory fantasies.

The Internet- You hate sex! Hypocrite!

Seriously guys, stop doing this. She never said she hated sex. She made it clear that it was the feeling that a stranger had appropriated her characters and used them for their own sexual gratification that creeps her out. If you want to disagree with that on its merits, go for it. But sneering that her characters have sex displays a stunning lack of reading comprehension.

[John Scalzi in reply to Patrick]:

No one here as far as I can see made an argument even remotely resembling that one you just claimed, so I’m wondering what you point is posting it in this thread, other than to have a convenient strawman to set on fire. Nor is that particular argument the same argument you appear to be making the second paragraph.

Additionally, this isn’t “The Internet”; this is my blog.

Also, while we’re at it, writing sex scenes with other people’s characters doesn’t equate with that person using them for their own sexual gratification, unless you wish to suggest that the fanficcer is typing the scenes one-handed, which I think is condescending and not showing much comprehension about how people actually write. Try not doing that here.


To amplify that, I’ll note that the next person who lets fly with a comment along the line of “Fanficcers are just nasty masturbaters” will find themselves on the loving end of the Mallet of Loving Correction. You can find ways to discuss the subject without going there. That is all.


I have no idea what proportion they occupy in the “space”, but would it be safe to say that “slash” and “shippers” are notable or significant or non-trivial (or something) subgenres of fanfic?

Not sure what the most accurate word would be.

But they’re clearly not “negligible”.

Fanfic is also notable for being the origin of the term “Mary Sue”. Star Trek fanfic, if I recall correctly. Not sure what percentage of the genre feeds the desire to Mary Sue the author into the center of some fictional universe so they can save it, but it did spawn the term itself.

And maybe the issue is really that these two pieces are very small fractions of the space but get a large proportion of attention because, well, they’re sort of about egoism, aren’t they? So, the folks who want to write that sort of thing, want the attention.

Categorically, I don’t know if fanficcers can sub-genre itself to cleave off the less-desirable aspects of its works. Well, they can try, but the rest of teh world isn’t obliged to be experts in the fanfic field and be aware of those sub-sub-genres.

I think at some point, you just gotta do what you gotta do and ignore the people who condemn the whole for some bad apples. Science fiction used to kind of have that reputation. Mainstreamers didn’t have much exposure to it and judged it based on some really bad, but attention-grabbing, examples.


... slash is certainly a sub set of Fan Fiction, as is shipping, and to be honest, those two words don’t mean today in 2010 what they meant when I came into fandom in the mid 90’s — they’ve evolved somewhat; but both of them refer broadly to what would be a more recognizable genre — romance — because both slash and ship describe the type of relationship between characters within a piece of fan fiction. Not all slash is sexually graphic, not all ships have a happy ending.

because, well, they’re sort of about egoism, aren’t they?

And I think you’d be very mistaken if you assumed that people who write slash, or who ship, do it primarily for the attention factor or to get their egos boosted any more than any other classification of writer – pro or amateur.

Slash has been, for the larger part of it’s existence as a kind “genre” of Fan Fiction, largely hidden from view and sometimes compulsively and with a certain paranoia. It’s obviously changed dramatically in the last few years, but there was a point in the not too distant past where being outed as a “slasher” could present a very real threat to someone’s livelihood in the real world. I make no apologies for writing slash but I’m also not so blinded by my love of it that I don’t think it could be used a true weapon if I wanted to do something, like say, run for some local government office. It’s not unlike being stigmatized by certain sectors for professionally writing erotica *still*. Something that’s also changing but…there’s plenty of people who would still like to see erotica become a legitimately censored genre of fiction.

I would agree that there’s a certain amount of ego-booing or attention getting behavior in not writing a Mary Sue story but in posting it. I’d hazard that at some point, most people have had at least a passing thought to inserting themselves into some aspect of common entertainment at some level, be a passing thought of, “If I were Iron Man, I would have…” or putting in the effort to either write a story where the author becomes Tony’s distaff son/daughter or what have you.

Sharing such a work does require some ego, just as it does for a professional author to share or submit work — even if that work is not even vaguely autobiographical.

There’s been plenty of times when Fandom itself has tried to kind of parcel itself into camps — it quite honestly doesn’t look any better from the inside than it would from the outside because there’s too many people who explore all aspects of fan writing from gen to slash, romance to bromance, fluffy bunnies to blood fests, and can have both academicians that are equally split between amateurs and degreed professionals; Fandom has a real gift for metacommentary.

As was noted up above though — the stuff fans write that’s the furthest away from cannon, no matter people’s liking or tolerance for sex, slash, fantasy, or reimagining is also the stuff most likely to be sufficiently divorced form the original source to not be considered infringement. (That it might be considered indecent or obscene is a different court case altogether.)

I don’t personally, care if the mainstream knows what I do or approves or disapproves. I’m not doing it for the money, I’m not doing it for the fame (however limited or encapsulated), I’m not doing it for *practice* to be the next John Scalzi, and I’m certainly not doing it to give the source creator’s grief or impinge on their income stream. I’m doing it because it’s fun, because I enjoy the characters and universes, because I like seeing if I can “nail” a characterization in text that previously only existed in a visual medium and because by and large, the people I hang out with are pretty cool. (I’m not one of the people DG is in a dither about – but I do think she’d be well-served to get to know her fan base a little better.)

And apropos of nothing, I seriously hate the term “fanficcers”. Regardless of whether people approve of our skill, subject matter or methodology, what we do is write, what we write is fan fiction. Scalzi writes Science Fiction (and now fantasy, and the odd fan fic); he’s not a sciencefictioner.


I’m getting tired of it being demanded that authors be emotional divorced enough from their work to allow fanfic and then have fans declare the reason for fanfic is out of passion and love for the work. That’s a double standard to me.

If the emotional investment of fans in the original work is recognized as valid reason for yes to fanfic then all things being equal the emotional investment of the author in their creation to say no to fanfic is also valid.

I don’t think there is a double standard. I think there are very few fans (as a percentage of all fans) who would deny that an author can be as emotionally invested in their work as they want to be and the vast majority of fan writers I know if they know an author doesn’t want fan fiction written about their work honor that. And I think even fewer would deny their right to do or say anything with regards to their own work is valid…

Not agreeing with a point or rationale is not the same as saying it’s invalid.

Even with DG’s now very public statement on her views of fan fiction, there likely will be some people who might yet borrow her charas or settings for their own purposes within the fan communities (although my understanding was that there is not exactly a huge archive of fan fic based on DG’s work anywhere). But those fans are not all fans and judging all fans based on a few makes no more sense than fans or anyone insisting that just because Cory Doctorow approves of fan fiction, DG must also approve of fan fiction. It’s very clear she doesn’t, and while a great deal of effort is going into persuading her to look at it differently, ultimately, she’s still the one who gets to decide what she thinks and feels about fan fiction.

No amount of hue and cry, however justified or un- can actually alter that simple fact.


The mainstream perception of fan fiction, in my experience, is pretty minimal, actually. Now, I will grant you that there is a propensity for people who, once they become aware of it, to fall into two camps: One) to be appalled by it’s very existence regardless of the subject matter, or Two) to get all wide-eyed and frantic and state “You mean other people do this too? I thought I was the only one!”

But yes, there is a propensity among some people who, when trying to make something they disagree with seem as appalling as possible, seek out the most extreme examples of their dismay and hold it up as the gold standard or moral weakness.

So my stance is this; that it’s more likely that people holding up extreme examples already don’t like it — but the fact is, at this point, the more public awareness there is about fan fiction, the more likely people are to find the good stuff — and as with viral videos, music downloads, and yes, publicly acknowledged reworkings of existing works such as Scalzi did with “Fuzzy Nation”, the lines between original source material and participatory audiencing are going to become far more common and more mainstream – and the truth is it’s probably the most likely revenue stream (as in cold hard cash) for all commodities available online — and for the creators of them.

The interesting thing is that with a few exceptions of idiotic fans trying to sell commercially works that borrow extensively form another’s original source text (and yes, they are few, just the ones talked about, as you said) it hasn’t been Fan Writers collectively who have tried monetizing fan works, it’s been outside business interests trying to capitalize on the massive creativity and productivity of the fan base.

But quite honestly between “Queer as Folk”, DG’s own books, Laurel K Hamilton’s mainstream sex romps, and the slow but sure acceptance that all things “gay” are not necessarily perverted… slash is coming close to being less of a shocker every year.

But the Mary Sues? Well, bad writing is bad writing, even if sometimes people get paid for it.

[John C. Bunnell]:

I’d have said that “Mary Sue” and “self-insertion” were two distinct tropes (though certainly sometimes related). Not all Mary Sues are self-insertions; not all self-insertions are Mary Sues. Likewise, neither phenomenon is restricted to fanfic. Many of the protagonists in Mercedes Lackey’s published novels have “Mary Sue” characteristics; many of Clive Cussler’s best-selling “Dirk Pitt” adventures feature the author as a self-inserted character.

Indeed, to the extent that both these are internal features of texts, discussions of these tropes are more relevant to discussions of writing craft in general than they are to fanfic per se — since, as I’ve argued upstream, there’s no purely intrinsic, qualitative way to identify a text as fanfic.

[ Arduinna replies to Greg]:

What you’re describing there has been talked out in fanfic-based fandom as well, and even has a name: the Wave Theory of Slash.

That’s the original version, written ~15 years ago, when slash fandom was much, much smaller. This is an updated version, and is probably a better description for what you ran into, as it focuses less on the writers and more on the stories themselves and how readers react to them. (It applies to het pairings as well, fwiw.)

From what you said, it sounds like you want first-wave fanfic, to carefully build up the relationship and show you exactly how these people wound up together, so you can grow to believe it – you need to be convinced. Without that, you can’t buy it, and the characters seem off-kilter and strange.

But the fans who wrote those stories wrote third- or fourth-wave stories, because they were writing for an audience that already accepted the pairing as a given; writing the careful buildup would have bored them.

It’s much like the way SF writers now just say “the ship’s hyperdrive” (or jump drive, or warp engine, or FTL drive, etc.), without going into technical detail on how such an engine/drive/FTL device works. The SF audience has spent decades accepting FTL drives, despite the fact that in RL, FTL drives totally don’t work.

No one writes “first-wave” SF anymore unless they want to write about some totally new FTL idea that no one else has ever thought of. Even though someone with zero experience of SF might have a negative reaction to being expected to toss the laws of physics aside and accept this random, unexplained “hyperdrive” thing, which would never work in reality.

It’s the same with pairings. Fanfic readers and writers have put 40 years into building our own tropes and shortcuts, and we do less and less first-wave writing, even for new shows.

John loves Rodney” is as every bit as unremarkable to us as “the ship dropped out of hyperspace”.

[Greg replies to Arduinna]:

“John loves Rodney” is as every bit as unremarkable to us as “the ship dropped out of hyperspace”.

I think that’s two different things.

“FTL” is a standard SF theme. Because it’s a standard theme, writers can say “the ship dropped out of FTL” and move on, because most readers will be familiar with the concept.

“John loves Rodney” can’t be a standard theme. “Boy loves boy” could be a standard theme, but John loves Rodney can’t.

Harry Potter slash Draco Malfoy fanfic takes canon and purposely violates it.

It may be that in fanfic, violating established canon is actually a theme of sorts. A subgenre in fanfic. I can imagine that some fanfic writers look for mainstream concepts in mainstream fiction and want to shatter them. Subvert the dominant paradigm, challenge authority, fight the man, rebel without a cause, and all that.

It just isn’t what I’m looking for in my fictional reading. I’m much more of the mind that people just want to be left alone, and ought to be allowed to live their lives their way.

And if a character is established as straight, and then some fan fic writer comes in and makes them gay, it rubs me approximately the wrong way as if some homophobic christian were to take the characters from Broke Back Mountain and write fan fiction where they “find god”, realize the error of their ways, and start having sex with women.

When a character violates who the character has been, it invariably makes me aware of the writer.

So, when I’m reading Potter/Malfoy, I drop out of the fugue state of being in the story and become consciously aware that I’m reading fiction and I wonder why the writer chose to do this with these particular characters.

When I’m reading some SF story and it says “the ship dropped out of hyperspace”, I’m not wondering if the author has alterior motives.

So, no, I don’t think they’re the same thing.


Greg, there’s this perfectly wonderful standard answer to your (equally standard) objections to slash: don’t like, don’t read.

oh my god.

maygra and I were having a conversation about the sorts of negative reactions there are to fanfic. At one point she said “the slow but sure acceptance that all things “gay” are not necessarily perverted… slash is coming close to being less of a shocker every year.”

At which point, I tried to explain that at least for me, my reaction had nothing to do with it being gay sex, and everything to do with it being straight character being written into gay sex by fanfic writer. Just as much as I wouldn’t like Broke Back Mountain fanfic written by some homophobes who turn the cahracter straight.

I have never said fanfic is wrong or immoral or whatever. It’s a genre that has at least a couple of subgenres that I really don’t care for, like the way I don’t care for horror in general, and not like I’m a homophobe or, ew, sex.

And at least some fanficcers can’t seem to grasp that people not liking fanfic doesn’t have to be driven by homophobia or prudishness or (insert negative judgement about people who don’t like fanfic). Some people just don’t like it as a genre, not as some kind of moral judgement.

The other thing I was trying to do was get at a more concrete reason as to why I don’t like it, not as “proof” of how bad it is, but because I get that getting at that sort of thing is hard. I get how Diana, when exposed to fanfic for the very first time, grasped around for straws trying to communicate how she felt about it. It isn’t easy.

And now that I dug around in the mental muck trying to get a better handle as to what are some of the things about fanfic that doesn’t work for me, I get the standard, canned response “if you don’t like it, don’t read it”, which is just soooo missing the point of the conversation I was having on the thread.

[JESR in reply to Greg]:

Greg: as tired as you are of that phrase, those of us who are engaging on the other side are tired of what you have said about your reactions. Cliches get to be cliches in the degree that they reflect reality.

But don’t let me discourage you from your introspection.

[John C. Bunnell in reply to Greg]:

It’s a genre that has at least a couple of subgenres that I really don’t care for, […] Some people just don’t like it as a genre, not as some kind of moral judgement.

Except that fanfic isn’t a genre in anything like the same sense that SF or horror or mystery or romance are genres. The label “fanfic” is just that, a label; it’s a descriptor of an authorship category. It is NOT a qualitative descriptor of textual content.

Which may, in fact, be exactly the reason that so many discussions of fanfic derail in the way they do, because so many participants tend to use the term as if it did describe intrinsic textual characteristics.

Now Arduinna is not entirely wrong above; the nature of fanfic writing communities tends to reinforce a certain commonality of storytelling technique. But fanfic communities don’t have a monopoly on these matters of craft; category/genre romance runs along some of the same tracks, and certain parts of the emerging paranormal genre owe a good deal to fanfictional literary theory.

The point, though, is that most statements about “not liking fanfic” arise from issues of content. Yet if fanfic per se is not itself definable in terms of content, such statements are necessarily invalid on a logical level.

[Mayra in reply to Greg]:

Have no fear, I understood where you were going with it. And I get the whole get a handle on it, because I am, as a slash writer one of those people who frequently says, on seeing a pairing I like and knowing I *want* them to be together, still have to justify to myself, how two guys, who otherwise appear straight, would suddenly be attracted to each other…i.e. I most often have to work my way through the “first wave” of a slash pairing even if I recognize that once I’ve justified it to myself, I no longer need to rationalize it in every story I write about that pairing.

I do admit that you kind of both proved Arduinna’s point and missed it at the same time.

I get that you don’t see how FTL drive and John/Rodney could possibly be similar in acceptance, but I can tell you that it’s true — within a given fandom, certain pairings become accepted without further or minimal explanation, no matter how unlikely they might appear to be in canon.

(keep in mind that a large amount, if not the majority, of slash also deals with media fandom rather than lit fic. I.e. we work from spoken dialogue, visuals, character/actor chemistry — a whole other set cues that aren’t strictly textual. So, when we watch Pirates of the Carribean, it’s pretty clear that Johnny Depp flirts like he breathes, and that Orlando Bloom kind of oozes that take me if you can vibe for some people…so honestly, it’s not a stretch to see them together, despite the character’s on-screen attractions to the opposite sex.)

In other pairings it’s not as clear nor always as easy…but honestly, in the realm of “Romantic” fiction which slash falls into, stranger things have happened over the history of het romances… the notorious bodice rippers where the heroine falls in love with her rapist/captor/master/murderer of her fiance.

John: fanfic isn’t a genre in anything like the same sense that SF or horror or mystery or romance are genres.

Meh. I dislike horror in general, but there have been a few stories I’ve read or movies I’ve seen that were in the horror genre that I thought were really good. I think it’s safe to take “horror” and use it to describe “what is often seen in the genre” while knowing that not everything in the genre confines itself to the “norm”.

And I mentioned earlier up thread that I don’t know what proportion of fanfic is, say, slash or mary sueisms, but they certainly get a lot of attention. Not all horror is so moronic as to have the same process of slowly splitting off the group as they mindlessly wait for that thing out there to kill them.

But enough horror is just that bad to the point that one can spoof it as such on something like Saturday Night Live and the audience will laugh a knowing and understanding laugh.

Whether it is fair that horror has that kind of reputation is another thing. Whether it is fair that fanfic has the reputation of being all about slash and sex and a bunch of mary sues, is, well, irrelevant on some level. It’s the reputation it has.

It’s often that sort of stuff that is the mainstream person’s first exposure to fanfic. It sounds like thats exactly the sort of stuff that Diana read as her first exposure to fanfic of her world and her characters. And whether it is fair or not, isn’t the point. My point was simply that I can understand her reaction.

Maygra: Johnny Depp flirts like he breathes, and that Orlando Bloom kind of oozes that take me if you can vibe

OK, from that perspective, I can get how some would accept PiratesotC slash. It’s a different sort of thing than a theme like “FTL” but, I can get what you’re saying.

With Potter/Malfoy, not so much.

But even with Pirates slash, even though I’d be less likely to fall out of the story because the characters have a lot of sexual energy around them in the original movies, I think I’d still wonder what the author was up to that they had to turn them gay.

How would you react to fanfic of Brokeback Mountain where the two men realize the error of their ways and go straight? I’d be wondering about the motivations of the fanfic writer in such a case. I don’t think I could not wonder about the author’s motivations.

[kurage in reply to Greg]:

How would you react to fanfic of Brokeback Mountain where the two men realize the error of their ways and go straight?

I’d say “why is that fanficcer rehashing something something that already happened in canon?”


I’m not going to get heavily into the current debate, and in any case I’m not really a slash fan as such (I read it occasionally but on the whole read more het and gen, sometimes femslash), but I do feel that two things should be pointed out:

Firstly, slash does not mean “sex between two canonically straight men”, it simply means “a romantic and/or sexual relationship between two men”. These days, anyway (the meaning has changed over time). So some of the slash pairings are very much canon (see: Torchwood fandom) and some are non-explicit.

Secondly, it isn’t always a matter of “straight guy turns gay”… there is such a thing as bisexuality. Which the best slash authors clearly remember.


The difference is that by making a character bi rather than gay, you’re not rejecting all of the feelings they’ve canonically been shown to have for people of the opposite gender.

I mean, how many people on TV are explicitly labelled “straight”? You generally infer that they are because of who they date, but that’s just an assumption not a fact. Thus it’s not necessarily “changing a character” by writing them bi.


how many people on TV are explicitly labelled “straight”?

Uh, how many people on TV who are bi or gay are “stealth” bi or gay?

Dumbledore was stealth-gay. Rowling revealed his orientation after she’d made more money than the queen and didn’t care about mainstream backlash.

How many stealth-bi characters do you think exist in canon and the authors just haven’t revealed it yet? I’m going to guess very few.

[Van in reply to Greg]:

Greg: I get how Diana, when exposed to fanfic for the very first time, grasped around for straws trying to communicate how she felt about it.

This is a slight aside but, for the record, Diana Gabaldon’s fans in her compuserve Books and Writers forum did say over the last couple of days that they had discussed and traded Outlandish fanfiction among themselves in Diana’s presence. (Mind, they said this while Diana was in the forum with them and she didn’t disagree so I’m going to assume her peeps were being honest.) Diana herself is on record for years as knowing what fanfic is and not caring for it but had never slapped it down in a definitive manner until now. To me that seems like a lot of mixed signals.

In any case, this was not the very first time she was exposed to fanfic. For someone who has had years to find a way to express herself properly, I think she could have handled it better.

[John C. Bunnell]: instance where such a case could conceivably have arisen — but didn’t — was the well-known if often ill-summarized matter involving Marion Zimmer Bradley and a fan writer.

In that instance, the fan had written a Darkover story which MZB had read, and which overlapped with a novel MZB was drafting involving the same characters and setting. MZB and the fan disagreed about the amount and type of compensation the fan should receive for rights in the overlapping material; while most accounts mention the threat of lawsuits on one side or the other, in fact no such suits were ever filed, as MZB chose to abandon that novel. Had the case reached a courtroom, the fan’s contention might indeed have been that MZB’s text infringed on the copyright inherent in the fanwork (since, unauthorized or not, copyright in fanworks themselves rests with the creators of those works).

[John C. Bunnell]:

That said, there is one incident that may qualify as admitted infringement: that involving The Holmesian Federation and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. I say “may”, because it’s been far too many years since I saw one of the retraction advertisements published as part of the negotiated settlement between Yarbro and the fans involved, so I don’t know what exactly may have been acknowledged in those ads. Certainly Ms. Yarbro believed that the fanwork infringed, and was able to enforce that belief — but even that isn’t binding legal authority in and of itself.


I would certainly agree and acknowledge that the specific cases I’ve mentioned, involving Marion Zimmer Bradley and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, created real problems for those two authors and for the fanfic writers involved. Moreover, those problems had significant legal dimensions. But both of those cases were privately settled, without resort to the courts and therefore without creating binding legal precedents.

And that’s been my point all along — that since there is no binding legal precedent, any analysis of fanfiction’s legal status is speculative at best. The blanket assertions that “fanfic is illegal” or “fanfic is legal” are equally slippery, until a firm court precedent is finally set (and IMO, the Lexicon case is not squarely enough on point to serve as such a precedent, although I grant that you and I clearly don’t agree about that).

Given that the legal environment is as gray as it is, the results of interaction between authors and fans over fanworks are…unpredictable. Cautious authors are likely well advised in avoiding fanfic based on their own works. And yet there are counterexamples; Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series hasn’t been harmed to date by Kurtz’s long involvement with Deryni-related fanzines, for instance. And recent developments, whereby a number of authors have cited Creative Commons licensing schemes in giving approval for fanfiction, appear both legally and practically promising.

Ultimately, I’d like to see both fanfiction communities and professional writers thrive and prosper — and I don’t think that those two goals need be mutually exclusive.


  1. ^ And was one of the early BNF Starsky & Hutch fanfiction writers.