How does JMS feel about fan fiction?

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Title: How does JMS feel about fan fiction?
Creator: Per Malm and other fans, J. Michael Straczynski
Date(s): October 7, 1996
Medium: Usenet
Fandom: Babylon 5
Topic:
External Links: How does JMS feel about fan fiction?
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How does JMS feel about fan fiction? is a 1996 post by a fan, Per Malm, on rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated.

The first part of the topic was J. Michael Straczynski and Babylon 5 fan fiction. The second half of the topic is about an character using his penis to cheat at cards...

The Original Post

How does JMS feel about fan fiction? Story ideas aside, does he feel it diminishes or magnifies his creative efforts? Does he feel it should be ignored like Trek fan fic or more closely monitored and regulated?

Fan Comments: JMS

JMS:

Bottom line, and real simple:

I've asked that fans *not* write any fan fiction set in the B5 universe while the show is on the air. Remember, most ST fanfic began after the show was over [1], to keep those characters alive. We're still around.

Fanfic is a threat to us, in that if someone writes a story, puts it in a fanzine, and something remotely similar is done in the show, that person could decide to sue. It happens; Marion Zimmer Bradley lost an entire *book* over this, when her publisher refused to put the book out because of the threat of lawsuit from a fanzine with a similar story.[2]

When someone posted a basic story idea similar to what was planned for "Passing Through Gethsemane," that script went into cold storage for over a year; only when the fan involved offered (greatly chagrined) to write and sign a legal release, and delivered it to me, could that story be put back into prep. If he had not been this kind, THAT EPISODE WOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN MADE. Roll that one around for a while.

It seems to me that if someone wants to write B5 fanfic, it's because that fan likes the show, appreciates what's done, and respects those who created it. And that selfsame fan would not want to jeapordize the continued existence of that show. And would, therefore, honor this request from those who make it for the duration of the show. jms

Other Fan Comments

[Wendamatica]: At one point JMS mistakenly thought fanfic was going to be posted to rastb5.mod and he asked, politely but firmly, that it *not* be put where he could see it. He didn't say he was for or against, but I can totally understand: he doesn't want to have to look at other people mangling his characters.
[Gharlane of Eddore]:

Try: JMS doesn't want to have to log off the InterNet entirely, and stay off for two years, until after the show is out of production, so that he doesn't have to stay on guard against frivolous lawsuits.

Note that "NO FANFIC" is in the TOPIC CHARTER for both r.a.sf.tv.b5.mod and r.a.sf.tv.b5, because *ANY* publicly posted "fanfic" constitutes a legal danger.

And, *ONE* *MORE* *TIME*, it's not that WB Business/Legal and JMS couldn't *win* any such lawsuit, it's that simply losing a week or two to a court proceeding during a production season could cost the show MILLIONS, and if it dragged out, put the show completely out of business, *EVEN* if the suit has no merit.

For questions concerning the postability of "fanfic," please see the FAQ.

Perpetrating "fanfic" is an unclean, unwholesome, oftimes disgusting habit, best practiced in private, and circulated *ONLY* via SUBSCRIPTION MAILING LIST, so the folks who produce the show are left legally clear.

And wash your hands afterwards.
Janis Cortense:

And doesn't want to be sued by someone who sees their idea materialize on the show -- amateur writers are notorious for thinking that their ideas are entirely unique. I've read some great fanfic, so I'm to about to say that it all sucks, but the *writers* have generally not been in the field long enough to realize that many ideas are a dime a dozen.

[...]

As far as it goes, I do write the stuff because of two simple reasons:

1) As a laboratory in which to dabble in new narrative techniques, it's unparalleled. The Mad Narrator, the Story of Dialogue, the Story Without Dialogue, the Nonlinear Narrative -- you can play with all of these things a little bit more easily when you dabble in fanfic. At some point however, your own inner voices talk to you to write YOUR people and to hell with anyone else's.

2) Hormones. Pure and simple.

However, since I write more original stuff nowdays than fanfic (seeing fanfic as a sort of literary arpeggio), it's a simple matter to concentrate on my own work. And with as tolerant as jms has been of this stuff despite my gut feeling that it squicks him, I am quite prepared to keep it out of his hair if it makes life easier for him.

Frankly, though, there's a very simple idea why fanfic is written -- most character-centered fans watched the old "City on the Edge of Forever" show and went nuts at what happened to Kirk -- my god, the man's guts got torn out and stomped on. And next week, he was back bright eyed and bushy tailed -- that was just TOO much to take. And so fans started writing the stuff because otherwise the entire universe made NO fucking sense. It was at least partly an attempt to square the universe with real life and do the character-centered things that you knew WOULD have happened had the writers had any balls or desire to maintain episode to episode consistency.

But hell -- B5 doesn't DO any of that halfassed crap. There's no NEED to write "what happened when Marcus's colony got toasted and how he feels," because it was alluded to in one episode. Jms creates his people so realistically and gives them enough texture that you know it's going to come up anyhow. Why write the story yourself when you know the producer will get around to it in good time? No need to write "How John and Delenn came to love one another" because the typical bullshit angle of "well, they just uh, did" wasn't taken -- we *saw* it evolve over time so there was no need to create it.

Fanfic is written to fill gaps that drive you up walls. B5 has no gaps, so there's nothing to fill. This is I think why, even taking the "keep it out of jms's hair" thang into consideration, there is VERY LITTLE B5 fanfic written compared to other shows. You don't need to texture the universe and give it the depth of real life that is so badly lacking in Trek, f'rinstance. He already gives it that.
[Junsok Yang]: Don't forget the legality aspect of it. If the fanfic turns out to be similar to *what JMS is planning anyway*, then he would have to adjust the future story (or even the entire arc) to avoid possible charges of plagiarism and/or defend himself in court wasting a whole lot of time and money. (Hey, people, this information is on the FAQ !)
[Brian K. Bragg]: JMS has say many times that he doesn't even want fanfic to exist. That he doesn't want people millingaround in his universe with his characters. I understand the sentement. He also said that if you absolutely must to keep it somewhere he can't see it lest he get sued.
[Chuck Fullerton]: Why write B5 fanfic anyway when Joe has the whole story mapped out? It isn't like Star Trek where they have huge gaps in the accepted canon. I don't see the point, and I'm about as big a B5 fan as they come.
Mary Jean Holmes:

...as a person who edited a large fiction (original and fanfic) fanzine for almost 20 years, I not only understand JMS's position, but feel that any fan who genuinely admires the man and his work should respect his wishes. Write the stuff for your own edification, if you must, but keep it private. Let Joe finish telling the story in his own way, for you will never find a person who can see the vision so clearly as the one who created it. JMS is well within his rights to make such a rule; now that he has stated it openly and firmly, woe betide those who ignore it!

Permission has *not* been given for the open dissemination of fanfic; therefore, out of a sense of ethics and respect, we should abide with this restriction. And any fan who dares otherwise should know that if the dogs of legality come after them, they *will* lose. And rightly so.
[Joshua Jasper]: The fact that he's considering the time when the show is off the air OK to write fanfic in is astoundingly generous in itself. Even after the show is off the air, it's possible to still make money off of it. Look at all the crap ST novels put out by Pocket Books, after all. Plus, video games, movies, etc... etc... Personally, I hope B5 will have more integrity than Trek when it comes to merchandising, but I wouldn't blame them for going where the green is. Of course, JMS is closer to his audience and fans than Roddenbery ever was, so we have hope.
[Wendamatica]: I agree with everything JMS said about why us writing fanfic is a Bad Thing. I do want to point out one tiny wee little thing though: the sort of fan fiction many would be writing has absolutely NO chance of ever being shown on the show. (Can you say Marcus dancing in a zero-g strip club & then having a naked fling with the doctor in a stalled elevator while the entire station watches the whole thing on the closed-circuit TV?) Ahem, I rest my case. (Though I will honor the Great Maker, of course.) (And no, that idea was not mine. Or not mine alone.... (-: )
[Chris]:

Therefore, anyone who wants to write a script set into the B5 universe, who truly respects what JMS is doing with the show has the following options.

A) not write. B) write, and not publish it in any fashion it until after the show is finished with its 5 year story arc. if your idea was in the story arc, consider yourself clever enough to have come up with it so quickly. If it wasnt, then go about business as normal, and try to get it published through the regular channels (probably involving JMS at some point)

References

  1. ^ See List of Star Trek TOS Zines Published While the Show First Aired.
  2. ^ A oft-repeated urban myth, one carelessly repeated. See Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy for a much more nuanced reality.