What do you think about published fanfic?

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Title: What do you think about published fanfic?
Creator: Erastes
Date(s): August 26, 2009
Medium: online
Fandom: Jane Austen
External Links: online here; WebCite
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What do you think about published fanfic? is a 2009 post by Erastes at "The Macaronis: Historical Romance Out of the Closet."

Some Topics Discussed

The Post

I don’t mean the kind of fanfic that many of us have written in our time, the sort of fanfic in ‘zines and online where we aren’t making any money.

But the rash of fanfic that seems to be sprouting like mushrooms, particularly in the historical novel sections of bookshops.

Following successful sequels and prequels such as Scarlett and Wide Sargasso Sea, and the courts allowing sequels of Les Miserables, a bandwagon has been cobbled together, people have leapt on it, and now we have derivative works/pastiches/call them what you will, all over the place.

Just look at this list of Austen “inspired” fiction. It’s staggering. Now I know that Austen lovers hoover this kind of thing up, but what what do you think?

On a purely personal level, it gets me rather hot under the collar. Most of the writers I know are slaving away with their books, sweating over plot, screaming when their own original characters misbehave, tearing their hair out over locations. And then there’s THIS stuff. Which is a bit of a cheat, imho. Having written fanfic, I know how much easier it is. I used to write Harry Potter fanfic and compared with original fiction it’s so much easier. Want to know what your characters are wearing? No problems, JK Rowling has already given you the styles that were around. Want to know what your characters look like? No problems – the description is already there. Want your character to travel from A to B? No worries, there are many devices. Just choose one. Floo, broomstick, apparating, and so on. The writer doesn’t have to work a fraction as hard as the original writer because they are simply piggybacking on what’s already in place.

Now we have the Austen-horror sub-genre, which seemed to have started as a bit of a giggle, and now we have everyone writing it as fast as they can.

I can’t help but feel, why do I bother?

What inspired this rant?

THIS. James Fairfax by Jane Austen!!! and Adam Campan which is (as far as I know) the first gay Austen inspired novel.

Apparently, it has caused a bit of a flurry in the Austen plagiarist inspired writers’ camp because NO NO NO we can’t have homos in Austen-Land. I don’t know where this kerfuffle is occurring however. Hayden Thorne pointed the book out to me and said that there has been an adverse reaction to it. If it portrays gay marriage, then I’m not surprised, though.

I find myself very conflicted. On one hand of course I’m pleased that there’s another gay historical, but on the other (and this hand is weightier) I feel that – gah! – if you are going to the trouble of writing it – make it original.

Lots of people write fanfic of original works, and the classics are very popular. Here’s a few figures (courtesy of Tracey Pennington) to show how popular they are on FanFiction Net.

Jane Eyre 166.
Wuthering Heights– 59
Les Miserable –1,771
Count of Monte Cristo–24
Of Mice and Men–66
Hunchback of Notre Dame–239.

Fanfic is fine. Fanfic is great! I loved writing it. I’m not saying for one minute that fanfic can’t be creative, but the one tenet that was dinned into my head was “you don’t make a profit from fanfic. You do not make a profit from OTHER PEOPLE’S WORK.” The best place for fanfic is in fanfic forums. Not on Amazon.

For me, whether it’s in copyright or not doesn’t come into it. I had a great idea for one of Shakespeare’s plays and I really really wanted to write it, but I can’t now. I just can’t.

After all – Lord of the Rings is out of copyright in a year or two. There are over 40,000 stories on FFN for that fandom. What will we see in a couple of years? Aragorn, Legolas and the Zombies? The Haunted Hobbits?

Where does it end?

Comments: At the Post

[La Reine Noire]:
I’ve always found published fanfic annoying, at least in part because I’ve got no interest whatsoever in paying for something I can read for free online. And I completely agree with your characterisation of laziness — it IS lazy to pick up someone else’s book (never mind if they’re dead or alive), tweak a few things, and publish it as your own. Moreover, it still counts as plagiarism in my mind. The worst part, to me, is that most of these novels are just about the author getting his or her two favourite characters into bed. Which is a problem I have with the majority of stories on FFnet, but at least I didn’t spend any money on them.
[Chris Smith]:
I dislike derrivative works being published for money. And that includes ANY derrivative, not just the classics. Even caging too much from an autobiography and changing the name etc is completely beyond the pale.

The thought of the LOTR-SUES next year hurts my soul.

How many years until HP fanfiction-derrivative works become legal? Tell me I’ll be dead pls?
[Charlie cochrance]:
Oh hear, hear.

If you want to publish your fanfic, do it cleverly for goodness sake, like Shakespeare did when he nicked his best plots. Saw off all the serial numbers and put your own stamp on it.

The Roaming Heart in ‘I Do’ started off as AU fanfic but I defy anyone to guess where it’s from.
I’m in total agreement with you – fanfic is for fun, not for profit. One or two silly little Austen books (like Pride & Prejudice with Zombies – funny book that, although I must say: thinking on it, it definitely requires more than the usual worldbuilding for a fanfic. But it is still fanfic) = a maybe.

But to that extent? Gah! It’s just enfuriating.

The copyright comes off of LotR in a couple years? Oh no. Oh no no no no no. I’d say “I hope fans are respectful enough to not publish their own blatant fanfics” but judging from much of LotR fandom, most especially the movie-inspired section… *shudders*

And as Charlie Cochrane said: If you’re going to do it, do it like Shakespeare did.
I have mixed feelings on derivative fiction based on [classic] works. I really love Wide Sargasso Sea and have enjoyed other similar books, like Mrs De Winter, so I feel kind of odd condemning something I’ve supported financially. But the ones where the authors make use of huge chunks of text from the original source with some supplementation of their own material, to me, that’s over the line. Copy-paste is not writing, sorry.
I’m not really a fan of published fanfic – like you say, it seems lazy and I’d rather read fanfic for free on the internet (where it belongs). In fact, I think the only ‘derivative’ book I’ve read is Peter & the Starcatchers (by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson, it’s a prequel to Peter Pan), which I was given as a present a few years ago. In a way, I think it would actually be a stronger book if it *didn’t* tie in with Peter Pan – it’s a great story, and I, personally, would love to read more about Starcatchers’ adventures. At the other end of the scale, I remember listening to kids read aloud when I was a teaching assistant, and some of them were into the Star Wars books (I don’t know which series other than “the ones they ahd in the school library”). That time could not pass quickly enough for me… if I’d had any suitable links to hand (i.e. G-rated, written for a young audience, since the kids I was working with were the ones who had trouble/issues with reading) I would have told them to put the book(s) down & read internet fanfic instead!
[Josh Lanyon]:
This is a fascinating post and discussion. I admit I don’t have a strong feeling about it one way or the other — in fact, I sort of envy these writers able to lift characters from classic works (if they can somehow manage to recapture the magic of the original) and make them live again.

What would be your take on a writer hired by the estate of a dead author to continue a series or write a sequel (say the woman hired to do the Harriet Vane books after Sayers)? Is that still considered fan fiction?

I’ve only written a small amount of fan fiction, but I thought it was quite difficult trying to get the characters exactly as originally conceived (which, granted, is a matter of perception), trying to capture…what was not my own. Is it as hard as original fiction? Probably not. But it’s such a different art form, it’s hard to say.

I do dread the day some bright soul pops up with the sequel to The Charioteer. Just the thought fills me with intense hostility. Yet the fan fiction is beautiful.
I agree with your thoughts. Fanfic is easy to write. All the work has been done for you, in 99% of fic. Rarely does someone take the mythos and create of it something both new and seamlessly unique to that world. Some of the Wraeththu fanfic (which the author/creator eventually published via her own company) became canon, as did some of the Star Trek fic. But most of the time it’s fluff driven by a need to see characters act out in ways they never could in the plot proper. I don’t at all treat it with comparable respect to original work. Now some of the fanfic writers are brilliant – you did some fantastic HP work, which is where I first read you. I wrote XF and Buffy fanfic aeons ago. But if your love is the writing and not that isolated Universe, you have to eventually move on. You stop growing as a writer if you don’t. Writing professionally is a commitment to exploring your own creativity. Good questions, and great thoughts!
Fanfic is easy? I’ve written fanfic for ages (Highlander and Hornblower) and don’t find it easy at all. Actually, it’s probably been ages since I wrote anything. I *slaved* over my stories trying to get the ‘sound’ just right, but I, too, am not thrilled with the idea of someone just ripping other folks characters out of a book and sticking them in your own situation. Putting an entirely original kink on it may be somewhat more acceptable, but I doubt Ms Austen would think so. And don’t get me started on LotR or Harry Potter, Jordon’s WoT or Martin’s GoT.
I certainly didn’t mean it was easy – I have also slaved over my otter fics, the amount of research for some of them equals the research on my originals, just about, but they are easi-ER. You don’t have to create characters, or names, or locations (of course you CAN, but you can easily use everything that’s still in place). Not so important when it’s just jolly old england, but when it’s a complicated world-universe system like Dune, then the ficcer doesn’t have to put the work in making sure everything makes sense. PLUS of course, in my fanfics, all I had to say was “Remus walked across the road into the Three Broomsticks for his meeting with Fenrir Greyback” and everyone knew what was happening. If I were to start my book with “Gideon crossed the road, ready for his meeting with Carruthers,” I then have to work my socks off to show the reader who these people are, because they’ll be going “so?”
I am strongly against it. I used to read and write fanfics, but fanfics should not leave the realm of fandom and go into the publishing world. Just because the author is no longer alive and can’t protect his/her works doesn’t mean that other people can exploit their stories and characters and make money out of them. I find it personally wrong when someone publishes another Jane Austen ‘sequel’ or some such. And this latest bit is just wrong. I mean if you want to write about gay relationship in Regency why not come up with your own plot and characters and make it plausible? At the moment I am writing just such novel and I didn’t have to take anyone’s plot and characters and change their gender or something to have a story. Why do some people think that they have the right to turn someone else’s novel inside out and present it as something great and unique? I really hate it.
[Karen Klink]:
This is merely one more case of greed winning over . . . everything else. If publishers think it will make money, why not? I do not like it and will not read most of it, because most of it is likely not very well-written. I say, most, because I did read “March,” which was about the father of “Little Women” during the Civil War, and the author added a tremendous amount of history and realism, as well as excellent writing, to her novel. Some of us spend hours, days, researching for our stories. Of course, you are angry about someone who does not. Only you are the only one suffering; they are not. Those lazy people are not worth it. They also miss out on all the really interesting stuff we discover when we do research, as well as the satisfaction when we write it into our plot. The money is great, but writing is more than the money, as I am sure you are aware. Frak them.
I adore fanfic (and, as a reader, it doesn’t look easy to write, there are rules and boundaries to abide by, depending on where the story is posted – and characters/content/canon), but this particular “version” (as opposed to a fanficcer re-writing/re-orienting a story so that the story, obviously considered AU in the fandom, is utterly their own and the fanfic becomes a sort of early draft of the final story), is not something I would read…. I don’t think. And then I saw Thrones, Dominations mentioned .. and I have that, so perhaps I need to re-think my stance! There is a niggling concern at the back of my mind that some future reader may stumble across P&P and declare that they don’t like this version (a little like the way some of my son’s friends found it hard to grasp (and preferred the “new” one) the idea that Behind Blue Eyes was released some years earlier, by someone else).

Am struggling with articulating the difference, for me, between an author-approved continuation of a series/’verse (published), a homage and wish to stay immersed in a special place with beloved characters (fanfic), exploring the boundaries with familiar characters (or original ones) in non-canon situations (fanfic again *g*) and writing a story with/without familiar characters in a ‘verse created by someone else (sounds like fanfic) and publishing it (not fanfic!).

Then there are novellisations written as movie tie-ins – those have to be taken into account, I’ve read more than a few Star Wars and Star Trek titles (this flip-flopping and expanding the original question is giving me a headache!).

So, I don’t think I approve. Um, then again, it may mean that future readers discover the “classics” and special stories from the past through these new tales. So, there I am, undecided. Firmly. *g*
It’s a tricky subject. Some of these paid fanfic ones can be genuinely worthwhile, giving a new side to the story, like Wide Sargasso Sea. Others are just pastiche, but there’s clearly a demand for them. Readers want more about the characters they love, that’s why fanfic exists after all. And not everyone is inclined to go trawling through the stuff on the Internet, since most of it is of course unfiltered and it could be hard to find the good stuff among the dross. And yet despite all of that, the thought of people being paid for fanfic is still kind of odd.
What about TV? I mean recently there was a TV series on called “Lost in Austen” which was, basically, fanfic. A contemp woman falls into Pride and Prejudice – is this fanfic then?

And what about The Eyre Affair by Fforde?

Personally I think Fforde gets away with it because it’s a device, and he doesn’t use just one book–but I’m not sure about TV.. But then, if TV can get away with it, why not books? I’m sure that’s what the writers of these books are saying, too.
[Anne Hawley]:
I saw the Broadway musical “Wicked” not long ago. It’s a transformative work based on a movie (Wizard of Oz) which is a transformation of the novel by L. Frank Baum. It was as good as another B-way musical; it delved into backstory the way good fanfic does; it’s making millions off a public domain work.

I honestly don’t think there’s an easy answer to this interesting question, because while Shakespeare’s way over there with his plot-stealing and being stolen from, and Mary Sue is way over on the other side with her non-canon PWP fic, where in the vast gray area in between do we draw the line?

By the way, I read, loved and was fairly impressed by Pride & Prejudice & Zombies. It was an incredibly original idea. Kind of like “Wicked.” Or “Kings,” for that matter (the US TV show based on the biblical book of the same name).
[Lee Rowan]:
I love fanfic. I’ve written fanfic – still do occasionally, though nothing of any length. I’ve reworked fanfic into original fiction. I’ve even read a few pastiches (particularly the Sherlock Holmes stories by LB Greenwood and Russel A. Brown) that were excellent. I’m glad they were published, because I’d never have seen them otherwise.

But this latest batch of faux Austen? What can I say — I’m actually rather pleased to see Austenophiles objecting to the invasion of the original canon, because really, how difficult would it have been to write a roman a clef and do an original story set in a parallel Austenian universe?

Ah, but then the story would have had to stand on its own merits, instead of having a guaranteed best-seller. And in general, the corporate world wants guarantees of Big Fat Profit$, not the risk of publishing something original that will have to find its own audience. I mention two Holmes pastiche writers–I didn’t mention the dozen or more whose work shows no strong resemblance to the original, whose writing would probably not have got them in the door without the guaranteed sales that goes with the name Sherlock Holmes.

Generally… I think that the corporate ownership of creative arts, both publishing and film, has struck a serious blow to real creativity.

Look at the films out now; look at their content. Remakes of old hits, live-action comic books, big-budget films that are nothing but lame plots about toys, for pity’s sake (transformers, GI Joe), and the usual adrenaline-button fare of characters with minimal coping skills shooting and blowing other people up, to the point where the difference between hero and villain is practically irrelevant. Not that it matters; the real hero of most of these films is the SFX department.

So…. Hey, I loved the pro-fanfic UNCLE novels of my youth. I don’t see anything wrong with it, if it’s done well. But I don’t think a badly-written book should be praised to the skies just because a calculating author waltzed into an established universe and set up shop. Any book in an established universe should be judged by the same standard as the original, with points deducted for lack of originality.

I think Tolkien is safe, because I’m sure his heirs have renewed the copyright – I think they’re allowed to do that one time, so hopefully I won’t live to see Teh Horror of poor, misunderstood sparkly Nazguls.

Erastes, I think you should sit down and write a gay Austen. I’m dead serious. Your writing is better than at least half of what sees print, and if the market is there, which it clearly is, I would far rather see quality writers producing the pro-fanfic. Go for it – why the hell not? You might save readers from something truly awful whose author is better at salesmanship than wordsmithing.
[Jennifer Thorne]:
I took a long while to think about this… it’s a very thorny question.

I guess it all comes down to what you think about re-telling fairytales and mythology. That’s been a standard in the publishing industry since I-don’t-know-when. And, having read a few that I loved, I have to say that it’s just fine when done right.

Fan-fic is pretty much the same thing. These stories which people are re-creating are the modern mythology for our times. They are the leviathans which need to be conquered, the dark gods to be overthrown, the society which must be maintained. In your other blog entry about Gary Stues ( http://www.reviewsbyjessewave.com/?p=5478 ), you mentioned Harry Potter, etc. and how annoying it is that they don’t have any flaws.

Meh. It’s all been done before. It’s human nature. Why do you think comfort food sells better than avant-garde cuisine?

What concerns me more is the complete lack of brain activity on the part of the majority of society.

As for getting money off of ripping off someone else’s work… I blame the Romans. It’s all Vergil’s fault. Stupid Aeneid ;p