Rewriting the Rules of Fiction

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News Media Commentary
Title: Rewriting the Rules of Fiction
Commentator: John Jurgensen
Date(s): September 16, 2006
Venue: online
Fandom:
External Links: Rewriting the Rules of Fiction - WSJ.com, Archived version
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Rewriting the Rules of Fiction is a 2006 article in the "Wall Street Journal" by John Jurgensen.

Some Topics Discussed

Some Excerpts

There's a librarian in Rathdrum, Idaho, who spent 10 years posting her writings about a character from Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" online; Simon & Schuster paid her a $150,000 advance to publish the works as a three-novel trilogy. In Brooklyn, N.Y., a free-lance copy editor has become one of the Web's best-known "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" fan-fiction writers, and has landed a three-book publishing deal for a young-adult fantasy series. When a comic-book store manager in New Jersey decided to take his first stab at fan fiction this year, entering a contest sponsored by Showtime's "The L Word," he got the attention of a literary agent, who signed him last month. And Ms. Jones will soon have her first book published.

One sign of the growing influence of these authors and stories is that media companies, usually quick to go after people who use their copyrighted material, are increasingly leaving fan fiction writers alone. Mindful of the large, loyal audience the writers represent, many companies are adopting an attitude one media professor describes as "benign neglect." While most professional writers say their lawyers advise them not to read fan fiction to protect themselves against charges of plagiarism, some say they check the numbers of fan fiction stories posted about their work regularly as a measure of their success.

The rise of fan fiction is part of the spread of amateur-created content online, from viral videos to music playlists and blogs. Increasingly, audiences have become used to watching videos posted by other users on sites such as YouTube and MySpace. Reading fiction online is another extention [sic] of this trend.

Ms. Jones is best known for a series called "The Shoebox Project," which she writes under the name "Jaida" with a writer named "Rave." The story is a prequel of sorts, focusing on Harry Potter's now deceased parents, along with two other wizards, Remus and Sirius, imagining them as teenage wizards finding themselves in high school during the 1970s. Interspersed in the text of the stories are scrawled notes that look like they were written by the characters themselves.

In one critical turning point in the series, Harry's grandparents are killed by Death Eaters, minions of the dark lord Voldemort -- a plot point that mirrors the killing of Harry's parents, described in Ms. Rowling's series. But Ms. Jones says she was chagrined to learn later about an interview with Ms. Rowling where the author told readers that Harry's grandparents had died of natural causes.

The series, which Ms. Jones began the summer before her freshman year at Barnard College in 2004, is up to 25 sections and the equivalent of 600 pages. While Ms. Jones says it's impossible to track how many individual readers her entries have, nearly 5,000 people have signed up to be automatically notified whenever she posts a new part on LiveJournal.com, the Web community favored by many fan fiction writers. Each installment generates hundreds of reader comments and reviews.

Ms. Jones was contacted by Frank Fradella, an author running his own small independent book-publishing company, New Babel Books, who had read her work on LiveJournal. Next month, he's publishing her first print book, a collection of poetry called "Cinquefoil."

Like virtually all fan fiction, "The Shoebox Project" was created without the permission of the author or publisher. Many authors don't object to the fan-fiction surrounding their work, seeing it as a sign of a devoted audience rather than an act of copyright infringement.
Some authors take a less friendly view of the genre, however. "No matter how flattering, it's still robbery," says fantasy novelist Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, whose vampire works have inspired a number of fan-fiction writers. She estimates that her attorney has sent out about 20 "cease and desist" letters to writers and owners of fan sites. Ms. Yarbro says this has caused some of the writers and sites to take their stories down.

"Shippers" (the term is believed to be derived from "relationship") are writers that explore -- and often invent -- relationships between characters. A subgenre of this is "slash," which creates gay relationships between characters such as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock from "Star Trek." Slash fiction is often sexually graphic, and fan fiction's association with slash has made some mainstream authors and TV networks wary of it.

Increasingly, however, media companies, undeterred by the stigma of slash, are looking for ways to capitalize on fan fiction and its large audience. A company called FanLib is working with networks and publishers to create fan-fiction promotions and contests for books and TV shows.

Comments

Wall Street Journal Article: Rewriting the Rules of Fiction talks about fan fiction and how the companies owning the characters handle it...

It is a very good article but one thing bothers me - the fact that they specifically select slash and gay relationships between fictional characters in fan fiction as something to be wary of. So, explicit gay fan fiction is not good. Explicit het fan fiction is okay and acceptable... Am I the only one who sees how wrong it is? And terms like the "stigma of slash" don't help either... [1]
Some diligent writers of fanfiction have landed book deals. They’ve been self-publishing on the Web and have been discovered by the big boys... I’d written off fanfiction, having characterized it in my head as often simply being slash scenarios, Captain Kirk and Spock getting it on or whatever, but maybe it’s time to reassess the playing field. [2]

Meta/Further Reading

References

  1. comment by katikat: Rewriting the Rules of Fiction, August 22, 2007
  2. HITTING IT BIG WITH FANFICTION, September 16, 2006