Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Fan Fiction a Continuing Discussion


I wanted to make this new post to let everyone know I am learning things here.

There is no more name calling, or over-reaction. My only consolation is that I was not the only one over-reacting.

What I am trying to do now, however is reach understanding. As I perceive it, the beginning stances of the two sides were these:

Me: I think Fan Fiction is stealing and non-creative.
FF: We never steal and are more creative than you give us credit for. Plus, we hate being insulted.

Ok - that is the he said she said. Now, if we want to be civilized I will try and understand why you say it is never stealing and you will try and understand why I think it is and after learning more about each other we come to a civilized agreement, even if it is to agree to disagree.

Before you comment on this post, I respectfully ask you to re-read my original post and the comments I have made there. I think you will see a clear change in my stance as I learn more about the world of fan fiction from reasoned speakers such as delwynmarch.

For the record - I no longer see fan fiction as non-creative. I also no longer think it is stealing, but I do believe there are some potential sticky issues about copyright that could be worked through with a good dialogue between writing communities.


Anonymous said...

I would love to continue this discussion, but unfortunately college work beckons (cancer = bad, apparently). However, the offer for recommendations for fanworks in a named fandom, or links to discussions within the community about morailty/purpose/etc of fanworks (because believe me, we talk about this *a lot*) still stands.

Doug Hagler said...

I think that FF *can* be stealing if there is money involved. If someone writes FF and then sells it, that's stealing, but if they just write FF and even hand it around to whoever wants to read it, that's just doing what everyone does in their imagination anyway - and putting a lot more work into it.

I don't claim to understand copyright law, and I am a huge fan of the Creative Commons, so I take my cue from that. You can, for example, licence your work with some restrictions - as in you can use my work but not change it, change it but not charge for it, derive your own work from mine, etc. So far, the Creative Commons isn't very large, but I think it will grow quickly because it allows what you are talking about Eddie - releasing your work with the licence you want.

Aric Clark said...

You asked for the conversation to be moved here so this comment is partially a continuation of a point made repeatedly in your other post.

The fanfic apologists have repeatedly said that fanfic "can be just as good or better than original novels."

Sorry. This is over the top. There are exceptions to everything. I'm sure in the millions of works of fanfiction out there are hidden some real gems. I don't doubt that many of you who spend a lot of time writing are quite decent at it, and some of you also have original published works in addition to your fanfic.

But derivative things are derivative. Even good fanfiction owes its "goodness" to the original which spawned it, and is also limited by the quality of the original. While, again, I will admit there are exceptions that prove this rule, by and large copies of things are not as valuable as originals.

Ultimately making comments like this (which read to me like you are trying to compare something posted on with Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series with hilarious results) don't serve your purpose which is just to argue that fanfic is well intentioned, not illegal, and not deserving of insult. I agree with all of that, so lets dispense with the hyperbole that fanfic is as good as or better than original published novels.

Stereosleeper said...

Well, Aric Clark, once again that's a matter of personal opinion hence it isn't a case of "it's fact so it's final" - on the contrary, I know many fanfictions that (TO ME, and this is the whole issue) FAR outshine the original source. No one can deny that they are brilliant, but in the end, whether it's better than the source or not? Is up to the audience. So please don't resort to "the original is better and that's that", even with exceptions included. To prove my point I will post some examples, not to force you to read fanfic (egads!) but so that you may glance at the overall quality, and, if you know the origin, possibly compare.

"Secret Vulcan Mating Rituals" by Chase820 is a Star Trek TOS Kirk/Spock fanfic:

"Purple" by Kodak85, a Naruto/Sasuke fanfic:

"Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time" by Arxane, a LoZ:OoT re-imagining:

And that's off the top of my head, also all of them on - to prove it's not the hellhole everything claims it to be. These stories - three out of countless thousands - are at least on par with the original source, if not BETTER in some minds. It all comes down to personal opinion! I hate violence in movies but I write horror stories, that sort of thing. Do you understand my point, at least, that you can't set down a law on the quality of fanfiction?

Stereosleeper said...

Also, in general reply to the cries of fanfic authors apparently "swarming" DG's post or acting like a "rabid mob" - I did not see it at all. Maybe I'm biased, but I only saw one (and I cringed at her comment) poster outright insult Gabaldon. If I could, I would apologize in her stead, that sort of thing is inexcusable and childish.

However, she was the only case I saw. The other 400+ commenters were all respectful. Not supportive, sure, but they replied with dignity. What were people expecting, song and dance? And having people call out the sheer number of response, and claiming that it was "rabid"... well, to me, that stinks of someone losing a battle and resorting to petty insults. Numbers do not equal hysteria. Diana Gabaldon received an overwhelmingly negative response, is all. There was no leaping for throats or wild accusations.

I can't stress this enough. Please don't accuse pro-fanfic commenters of wild and hysterical defenses. We were as courteous and as well-informed as possible. If you disagree, give me a solid example.

This isn't in direct response to you Eddie, simply to those that might and have brought that up.

Eddie Louise said...


Thanks for the recommendations and I will read them.

Although, I do have to say (honestly, being a childhood Star Trek fan myself) that fiction written about Star Trek would not have far to reach to be better that the TV show or even most of the films - it was pretty cheesy stuff.

Unfortunately I know nothing about Japanese manga or fiction and very little about Zelda (it is a video game isn't it?) so I won't be able to make any kind of comparison there.

But here is a question - what about the comparative difficulty of the source material? In the world of the originals, for example, no-one would think to compare Harry Potter with say Lord of the Flies - they are too vastly different.

Are there any delineations such as that in FF? Is fiction written on say Deadwood compared to that of Star Trek?

This could be part of the reason those of us from without the community get confused.

If the only TV I ever watched was Deadwood then I would judge the scripts of Star Trek much more harshly than if I discovered Star Trek only after watching Dark Shadows.

Part of what this entire conversation is doing for me is to give me perspective.


Anonymous said...

I normally don't bother to try to alter people's opinions about fanfiction, mostly because it usually ends up resembling a Holy War with little hope of changing opinions on either side, but since you seem to be a reasonable person I thought that perhaps it might be worth the effort. Not that what either of us believe really matters in the grand scheme of things, I suppose, since we are but two among billions.

There is a wonderful post by the fanfic author bookshop here which gives some very eye-opening perspective on exactly what fanfiction is, and who has written it to what response. Very telling because it points out exactly how derivative our society truly is. Now whether you see someone retelling Shakespeare as an example of fanfiction or not, the point is that there has always been and will always be derivation of popular works, including direct retellings, embellishments, and continuations. It maybe easy to sit back and say "oh, this person is simply stealing" or "they are too lazy to write their own", but the fact is that there are certain theme or characters who speak to people on a visceral level, and they will be used time and time again because of it. Add to that the fact that any author worthy of the title MUST learn their craft from somewhere. There are many published authors today who wrote fanfic themselves (Neil Gaiman and Tananarive Due, both award winning novelists, among them) and who encourage fanfic of their works.

As to the why of fanfic... that is as varied as the writers themselves. I became involved because I was so inspired by what an author WASN'T saying that I simply could not contain myself, I HAD to write it and get it out of my system. While there are certainly some people who write ironic fanfiction of "bad" works, I think for the most part you'll find that no one bothers to write unpaid novels about something they despise. In every case, what I have written has been a labor of love, not of the author, but of the characters that were created. When the series I was writing for ended, and in such a fashion that I was absolutely devastated by what the author did to characters I had admired and invested so much emotional time on. So I had to write a new ending, a resolution for the grief I was feeling because of what seemed to me the author's careless destruction of her own creations. Certainly it was her right to do so, I don't try to claim it isn't, but I needed an outlet for my grief and anger. Perhaps it might seem a bit ridiculous to become that attached to imaginary people in a novel, but I consider it at least a bit less stupid that idiots who get so wrapped up in a sports team that they go out and riot when that team loses a game.

But I digress. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that you canNOT paint all fanfiction or fanfiction writers with a single brush, because we are all very, very different in our approaches and motivations. And no, I have not ever published on the internet fanfiction of a work where an author has specifically asked that it not be, no matter how much I loved the work in question. I can't speak for all other fanfic writers, of course, because despite the way many portray us we are hardly some organized bunch of law-defying reprobates who defend to the death anyone's right to violate someone's copyrights.

Thank you for listening.

Stereosleeper said...

Hi Eddie,

Don't worry, obviously I wouldn't expect you to have in-depth knowledge of every single series in existence. The ones I mentioned were what came off top of my head, and I meant to post them as examples of unarguable quality if you chose to look them over. I'm not expecting an essay :)

I'm having trouble understanding your question - do you mean, is the quality of the fanfiction judged according to the "difficulty" or quality of the series it is based on, OR is it compared to the quality of other, more demanding work? As in, would a fanfic for a child's cartoon be considered "good" compared to the source, but terrible compared to, say, fanfiction for the Great Gatsby?

If that is the case, then the answer is no. A fanfic is critiqued and held to the same standards as a book off the shelves, no matter the fandom, and relates to the quality of published work - NOT compared quality-wise to another series. Something well-written is well-written all across the board. Someone may consider a fic "decent" compared to it's source, such as fanfiction written, for, say, Bugs Bunny as an extreme example. As you said, it's not hard to surpass things like Bugs Bunny in terms of quality. But that comparison aside, at the same time it STILL is judged according to how any original work is judged - Were the characterizations correct? Was the plot engaging? Was the dialog believable? And so forth. This extends to all across the board - while some fics may be judged individually (if the fic was meant to be funny, was it?), overall you won't see any differentiation of perspective of quality depending on the series. A 'brilliant' Bugs Bunny fic, if it truly deserves the title, will still be 'brilliant' compared to fanfiction for the Great Gatsby. A Deadwood fic that is crap will still be crap when read by the Star Trek fandom.

I tried my best to answer according to what I believed was the question. If that wasn't what you meant, I apologize for not understanding.

Eddie Louise said...


Welcome to the discussion and thanks for the link!

Eddie Louise

Eddie Louise said...


Thanks - that helps clarify things a great deal.

I like learning new things BTW.

My motto: I have and opinion and it happens to be the right one. Until someone comes along and teaches me something that causes me to change my opinion. Then... I have an opinion and it happens to be the right one!

Eddie Louise

Des said...

[The fanfic apologists have repeatedly said that fanfic "can be just as good or better than original novels."

Sorry. This is over the top.]


Have you ever heard the phrase about standing on the shoulders of giants? Just like in math, and in science and in art, we all learn from what comes before. Every work is derivative. And I know from many years of reading both profic and fanfic that it's the talent and the hardwork that the author puts into the story that makes it shine, not whether it has a publisher's stamp of approval on it.

Des said...

Have you ever watched the movie "Labyrinth"? Someone wrote a wonderful story that is a sequel to the movie:

A Forfeit of Dreams by KL Morgan.

I think if you took the time to read it, you would recognize it as an excellent piece of writing that stays in character, and provides a future for the characters thus keeping them alive. It's a big favourite of mine, actually. It's about 150,000 words long so it's a long read.

Irukandji said...

Thank you for reconsidering your original stance, and for generally being so reasonable and respectful. As a fic writer (who also got more than a little over-excited throughout the debate on Ms. Gabaldon's blog), I really appreciate this.

Pandarus said...

Eh, Des, I don't blame you for being fond of 'A Forfeit of Dreams' (hell, I'm in the middle of podficcing it), but it is sorely in need of editing. I know she IS editing it at present, but even though I subscribe to the "fuck you, Hemmingway!" school of literature (Go Team Austen!), I must admit that the story needs fewer adjectives. (And there are a fair number of typos.)

That aside, though, I agree that it's a thoroughly charming story which does a splendid job of capturing the atmosphere of the film, and the characterisation, and that Ms Morgan's original characters mesh seamlessly into Jim Henson's world. It's certainly MUCH better than the official spinoff Manga book (the artwork for which was enough to make me weep - REALLY, anything based on Brian Froud's gorgeously elaborate designs shouldn't be rendered in sparse and generic artwork).

The fanfic apologists have repeatedly said that fanfic "can be just as good or better than original novels."

Sorry. This is over the top.

No, Aric. It really isn't. You are speaking from a place of ignorance, I'm afraid.

See, here's the thing: some of the most fertile source material for fanfic is stuff like 'Stargate Atlantis' or 'Star Trek' or 'Xena: Warrior Princess' or 'Smallville' or, God help us, 'Twilight' - texts which provide interesting world building, and engaging characters, but don't do a great job of tying everything together, and can be patchy as hell. A lot of the bigger fandoms are based around rather flimsy source texts PRECISELY BECAUSE there's so much room for improvement, and so much fun to be had playing around with papering over the cracks in the text, and playing games of 'What if', and doing right by characters who were marginalised or criminally underwritten in canon.

Now, that's not to say that fans are only drawn to crappy source texts - but there are a lot of people taking rather slipshod professionally-produced TV shows and movies and Manga (and, occasionally, books) and producing actively GOOD, and indeed excellent, stories based upon them.

This is why it is not hyperbole to say that much fanfiction can be just as good as, or better than, the source text. It's factual.

(The same can also be said for the better class of professionally published tie-in novels or novelisations pertaining to TV shows and movies - when one writer is sitting down fitting canon together, or expanding canon, they can provide a unifying lens through which to view a fractured text, and they can create something with consistency, depth and resonance; this is not always the goal of writers on TV shows. Yes, Stargate franchise, I'm looking at you.)

Pandarus said...

Since we're giving recs, allow me to post one of my own very favourite stories - AJ Hall's superlative Harry Potter story 'Lust Over Pendle'. (Do not be misled by the title into thinking it's something racy and salacious - nothing could be further from the case.) This was written when Rowling had published about half of her books, and it's set in a hypothetical future, positing a time after the defeat of Voldemort, when the kids in Harry's year group are in their early twenties, iirc. It takes supporting characters from the books, as well as a host of original characters, creates a detailed and original setting which meshes neatly with Rowling's universe, and tells a splendid story along the way.

Going even more Old Skool, there's Yahtzee's story 'Phoenix Burning', which tided me over very happily during the hiatus between Season 5 and Season 6 of 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'

Dodger Winslow's 'Parental Instincts', which is a look at the backstory of the characters in the TV show 'Supernatural' - a little window into Dean's childhood, from the PoV of one of his teachers:

Star Trek (new movie) fic, exploring the friendship between Nyota Uhura and her roommate, and positing interesting possibilities about people from Orion :

Actually, hell, I'll stick my own neck out:

A short sequence of interlocking pieces, all post-movie Pirates of the Caribbean crossover with Neil Gaiman's 'Sandman' stories, by me:

Aric Clark said...

@ Pandarus et al

Alright. I'll concede. Such value judgments are entirely subjective and it is possible for something derivative to surpass the original - especially when said original source was not that fantastic to begin with. I confess I have no idea why you would want to spend so much time and effort on something that you readily acknowledge from the beginning was not good material. If Stargate, or Twilight, is such drivel why not create something better?

But this conversation was started by Diana Gabaldon about her Outlander series. Have you read them? They're superb. They are nowhere on a level with Stargate. Though it is possible there is a writer better than Gabaldon out there laboring in anonymity, doing fanfic, that writer should be publishing their own stuff not copying Outlander.

Perhaps I am crazy, but I think originality by itself is valuable. Yes everything is derivative to a degree, but there are differences of degrees. The more original something is the better. Originality by itself does not guarantee a work of art will be good, but no matter how good something derivative may be it will never be regarded on a level with quality original work.

Example: I love Spiderman. I thought the first two Spiderman movies were excellent (the third was a disaster). But no matter how fun and well crafted those movies were, they simply don't belong in the same realm as something like Synechdoche New York, or Little Miss Sunshine, or Crash... or something which was completely original.

What's more - the Spiderman movies at least get credit for a change of medium. When a novel is taken as source material by a fanfic writer there isn't even that level of original reinterpretation going on (though some of your examples were TV shows and such which would qualify). Diana Gabaldon has already written the novel (many) on Claire and Jaime's adventures. A fanfic writer taking off on a hypothetical reimagining of Outlander isn't making a very big leap.

Originality isn't the only value in art. Maybe it isn't even the most important one. But comments like the one I said was over the top sound to me like fanfic writers don't even understand why people like me value original work.

Katja said...

I'll leave a few links for you to read. Hopefully they can illuminiate this issue a bit and get you understand where the fandom side is coming from.

I hope you find the time to read them. :)

I honestly hope that you won't ban fanfiction of your books. I'm a reader, not a writer. I find great enjoyment in reading fan fiction and I'll be greatly saddened if I won't have that chance with your books.

Eddie Louise said...

Thanks for all the links everybody. I will be wading through them in the next few weeks.

I just wanted to say Thanks to everyone who has accepted my apologies for the 'rants', swallowed their own anger and found a way to have a productive conversation here.

I will be taking many things I have learned here forward with my writing career.

The jury is still out on whether I can see my way clear to allowing fan fiction on the web - although a friend made an idea that maybe I could create my own personal 'disclaimer' that could be put at the top of the stories.

With fan cooperation, that could go a long way towards dispelling any remaining (what did you call it?) squik? and help me to feel comfortable about the whole thing.

As I have said before - this is a learning process for me. Thank you all for your patience.


Pandarus said...

Originality isn't the only value in art. Maybe it isn't even the most important one. But comments like the one I said was over the top sound to me like fanfic writers don't even understand why people like me value original work.

I think you've made a bit of a mental leap there, Aric - what on earth leads you to suppose that fanfic writers don't value original work too? We don't exist in a vacuum, my friend - I've been an avid and obsessive bibliophile my whole life, as are the vast majority of my acquaintances in fanfiction communities. I (like most of the people I know through fanfic) have extremely diverse taste in books, movies and films, both arthouse/Literary-with-a-capital-L and pop culture. Not all source texts make me want to write fanfiction, by any means. Nobody on the fanfiction side of the fance has said a word against original fiction.

The more original something is the better. Originality by itself does not guarantee a work of art will be good, but no matter how good something derivative may be it will never be regarded on a level with quality original work.

No. Just - no. By this rationale, "The Tempest" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" are qualitatively better than all of Hamlet's other plays. By this rationale, "Twilight" is better than Zadie Smith's gorgeous book "On Beauty" (which is - although I realised only by glorious increments, a fabulous AU of 'Howard's End').

There is nothing INHERENTLY superior to writing which scrabbles around to tell an original story (can't be done) without reflecting upon or reacting to the stories that have gone before. There is only the question of quality when it comes to the final product. Writing something which has layers of resonance and exists as a commentary or reaction to on another text or texts is not a creatively bankrupt process.

(And, just to reiterate - not a single participant in the discussion at DG's blog was objecting to her personal stance wrt fanfiction of her own books. Given that there are only 38 at (contrasted with hundreds of thousands for Rowling and Meyer), the most recently-updated of them having been added to in 2006, it is very clear that practically nobody has any interest in reading or writing fanfiction for her books.

That is not, and was not, the reason for the response she garnered.)

Pandarus said...

all of Hamlet's other plays.


Let that be a lesson to me not to type in haste & repent at leisure, and that caffeine is my friend.

I meant, as must be transparently clear, "all of Shakespeare's other plays" - although, yes, 'Hamlet' was foremost in my mind, along with 'Lear' and 'Macbeth' and 'Twelfth Night' and 'Anthony and Cleopatra'.

Fond as I am of both of the stories Shakespeare made up himself, I don't think they are by any means the pinnacle of his work as a playwright.

TL;DR version:

It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it.

Aric Clark said...


You mean Shakespeare's other plays, not Hamlet's other plays. Though I suppose Hamlet sort of had a hand in writing the play to catch the conscience of the king.

I've apparently failed to communicate clearly for you have misunderstood. I did not say originality by itself made art good. I said that originality itself is valuable and therefore quality original work is superior to derivative work. Give me two equally well written scripts/books/poems and the more "original" of the two (admittedly difficult to define but this whole thing is subjective in any case) is worth more.

The fact that Shakespeare referenced mythology and history and other plays and books and such does not make his work unoriginal. As you've said nothing exists in a vacuum without reference. Originality is rare and that is precisely what makes it precious. But there is no debate about whether fanfiction is original. It may be creative. It may be well-written. It may take the source material in surprising directions, but it is still derivative - a word which like all words only has meaning if it is limited. You cannot say that all literature is derivative and none of it is original and be intelligible.

I will end my participation here allowing you to have the last word if you want, without any malice.

Pandarus said...

Oh, damn it, Aric - why have I driven you away? I don't want to "have the last word" for the sake of it - I'm enjoying this discussion, and I hope you'll rethink your decision to leave it.

I am sincerely not trying to engage in sophistry here: I really do NOT understand the distinction of kind that you are making between derivative work such as 'Wicked' or 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead' or other storytelling which is explicitly based on a pre-existing text, and the process of derivative writing in which Shakespeare was mostly engaged. (I'm pretty sure that I don't need to clarify that I'm not remotely saying that McGuire et al are writing work of a comparable standard to Shakespeare, because - dude, even on his off days, he was pretty damned awesome - but you're clearly a smart guy, and I think it unlikely that I need to make that qualification.)

The fact that Shakespeare referenced mythology and history and other plays and books and such does not make his work unoriginal.

But we're not talking about simply referencing mythology, history or other plays. We're talking flat-out retellings of other people's stories. Flat-out appropriation of other people's characters and narrative arcs. Not just the history plays, either - 'Hamlet', 'Twelfth Night', 'King Lear', 'Romeo & Juliet' & all the rest of them are reworkings & remixes of plays & stories written by other people. Often stories with which many of his audience were familiar already, in one form or another.

You cannot say that all literature is derivative and none of it is original and be intelligible.

You're quite right; I was typing in a frantic rush before I left the house, and I regretted condensing a more complex argument into a soundbite after I'd hit post.

What I would say is that all art, if it has value, serves to illuminate the human experience. Hopefully to show us the familiar in a fresh way, or to show us something wildly unfamiliar in a way that makes it feel familiar. But all of it (heh - cue sweeping generalisation which I've not really taken time to examine, and may be proven false - still, what the hell) is about making sense of the core experiences through which we pass in the course of our lives, and about helping us deal with pain, and mortality, as well as helping us recognise opportunities for joy.

There are, at the risk of getting all Joseph Campbell about it, a limited number of stories that one can tell, when you pare it down to the bare bones of the narrative.

I think we are in agreement here though, really; I was simply agreeing, in those three words, with your own statement that "Yes everything is derivative to a degree". I don't feel that the crux of any of my argument hinged upon that nod - certainly there are differences of degree, and for the sake of this discussion we're distinguishing between 'original' and overtly 'derivative'.

Pandarus said...

I thought the first two Spiderman movies were excellent ...but they simply don't belong in the same realm as something like Synechdoche New York, or Little Miss Sunshine, or Crash... or something which was completely original.

No indeed, I don't think I'd compare an excellent superhero movie with an excellent non-superhero movie either. But I'm not persuaded that the originality is the key difference here - we're also looking at completely different genres.

Let's look at another example (and this pertains to your question about someone would bother engaging with a rather crappy source text in the first place, in order to make something better): the 2003 'reimagined' version of Battlestar Galactica. Original? All kinds of no. A derivative work in the same medium as the source text, and one which played a number of the games that fanfic writers engage in regularly (genderswitch etc). Ron Moore took the flimsy space swashbuckler and built something tonally, structurally, aesthetically, morally and intellectually more sophisticated and thought-provoking than the source text. (And it is perhaps worth noting that just as Diana Gabaldon loathes the notion of other people playing in her sandbox, so too Dirk Benedict despises the reimagining of his character. Needless to say, I do not find this a particularly compelling argument against the artistic value or intelligence of Moore's reworking of BSG. (Or indeed a compelling defense of superiority of the original version Starbuck over the 2003 version.)

Now, for my money 'Firefly' is more enjoyable viewing than BSG, because in addition to gorgeous world-building and excellent ensemble it also has a lightness of touch which BSG lacks. It's my cup of tea.

That, however, is a matter of tonality and personal taste rather than objective quality. It's an unfair comparison, really, given that there's so much more of BSG to draw upon - but even if we look simply at the first season of BSG and compare that with 'Firefly', I think that BSG is not just grittier, but arguably more complex and challenging. It's less fun, but it may possibly even be the better show - I certainly don't think it's WEAKER than 'Firefly', even though I prefer the latter.

Derivative work functions differently from original work, inasmuchas it exists in dialogue with, and as a commentary upon, a previous text or texts.

Would I want to see nothing but (overtly) derivative works? No, certainly not. But there are specific satisfactions and kinds of discourse to be gained from derivative work which original work cannot provide. It isn't a case of either or, afaic.

All that aside, I'd like to thank YOU, Eddie, for taking the time to listen, and for putting aside your presuppositions about what fanfiction is. It takes a big person to step back and engage, rather than barricade themselves into a them V us paradigm. It's very nice to see you doing that.

Anonymous said...

First of all, to Aric:

"Give me two equally well written scripts/books/poems and the more "original" of the two (admittedly difficult to define but this whole thing is subjective in any case) is worth more."

If they are equal, then you cannot, by definition, say that one is better than the other. You may personally prefer one to the other, and as you said, that is entirely subjective. However, the idea that the fanmade work owes it's own merits to the original seems a bit out of sorts to me. It is good because the writer that penned it put forth something well crafted and engaging, just as the published author of the original idea. Yes, they do owe that the basis of their fiction to the original creator of the source material, but the derivative material should be judged on its own merits and not by the standard that it is, in essence, derivative.

Anyway: to Eddie, I do thank you for being open-minded about this discussion, and I am glad that you are taking an interest in learning about something that is so near and dear to so very many fans.

I agree to the idea that fanworks are not stealing. We as fanfic writers mean no harm to the original author, and are simply borrowing characters, places, times, etc., to expound upon something that we dearly love. Everyone has their own way of expressing that, and not everyone will always agree with everyone else on their choice of expression. The point is not that we believe we have an absolute right to continue writing fanfiction, or that published authors should not have the absolute right to object to their own works being used in the fiction of others; in essence, the point is simply that we do have the right to express ourselves and in the way that we choose to do so. By and large, when an author states that they do not want fans to create stories or anything else based from their works, we, as a community, listen. As stated, we mean no harm or offense. We can only hope that the creator of the source work will understand that fanworks are a labor of love, the same way that they labored out of love to bring it to us in the first place. For those that prefer us to simply enjoy the original, we understand and respect that decision, and follow through with the creator's wishes. After all, we do it in good fun for ourselves and for others that share our interest for no other reason than that we do love something, and want to share that love.

Anonymous said...


So far as the writing aspect goes, I have been writing since I was very young. Mostly, I write for fun or to pass the time, and I have inumerable notebooks laying about with all of the original stories I have penned through the years. However, I rarely share those stories, as I would prefer to know that they were the very best that they could possibly be before releasing them into the world for others. No one is born a literati nor are they born a master of pen and paper (or word processor, as the times reflect). They must practice their craft, learn the ins and outs of the printed (or pixel) word. I find that, for myself, fanfiction is a wonderful way to practice those skills. I won't say that it's easier, in general, to write your own characters--I know from personal experience that sometimes it can be very, very taxing. However, I do find that for myself it can be much simpler to do, as they are my characters and I already know the inner workings of them and how they should respond to outside influence--as I should, I created them. When writing for someone else's characters, it's much more involved, as you don't truly know everything about that character, and must find ways to keep them as close to source as possible without creating rigid cut-outs. For those that can write for a character other than their own and make it seamless, it really is an incredible amount of work and it shows. For someone to put that much effort into something for no profit and simply to share with others ought to show just how much so many of us do love the fandom(s) that we're in. And that's really all there is to it, we love something and it inspires us. We use it as a muse to express ourselves creatively. We share it with others that share our love. It might be "fanfiction," but it's still ours, and we love it: insulting it or putting down its merits really does hurt our feelings. We, too, hope that some concensus can be reached--not for whether or not we should be allowed our chosen form of expression, but to the common ground of respect on both sides of the argument.

Aric Clark said...

Alright Pandarus, you've pulled me back in with your damn BSG-Firefly comparison.

Whether one 'likes' BSG or Firefly more is of course entirely subjective, but artistically Firefly is the superior precisely because it did something that hadn't been done on TV before (or since). The first season of BSG was solid, but still a great deal of the enjoyment of the series came from the subtle jokes and references to the original.

Magichour makes my point about fanfic writers and the comments they are making here not valuing originality. I specifically said I hold originality itself as a value. It is not the only value or an absolute overriding one, but because originality is valuable in my opinion, two works of equal quality in other respects will not be equally valuable if one is original and one is derivative.

Why is originality valuable? Because art requires it. There may be a limited number of basic story archetypes per Campbell, but there are infinite numbers of permutations and variations per Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Art that is derivative doesn't expand the field of available options. Original art does.

Why is Tolkein so highly regarded as a fantasy author? In part it is because of the quality of his writing, but he is admired far beyond what the quality of the work deserves. What he is admired for is essentially inspiring an entire new genre of fiction.

Surely pursuit of originality isn't usually successful, and if pursued at the expense of other aspects of the craft can result in a bad story, but originality is crucial to art as a whole and as such, when achieved, deserves to be honored.

Pandarus said...

One more (possibly final!) thing: I hope, Eddie, that at this point you might be able to see how DG's original blog post could have felt like being slapped in the face with a wet fish for those of us who write fanfiction.

NOT because she was asking people not to write fanfic about her books - but because the way in which she chose to do so was by writing a little Q & A session in which a Hypothetical Writer of Fanfiction (depicted as a slightly dim, wide-eyed, inarticulate, gushy and timorous soul) put forward a handful of flimsy arguments in defense of fanfic, in order to allow DG to put generously pat them on the head and show them the error of her ways.

It's more than a trifle ironic, given the fact that she was moved to make the post by a sense of outrage at seeing her characters (with whom, we are told, she identifies so very closely as they are facets of herself) misrepresented by strangers, and given bad dialogue and unconvincing motivations. Because that is precisely what she was doing in that post - only it was Joan Q Fanfic Writer whom she chose to depict, and into whose mouth she put the bad dialogue and the unconvincing motivations.

When the real life Joan Q Fanfic Writer (or rather, a fraction of the millions of people for whom she was supposed to be the representative avatar) then came along and READ the blog post, it is surely understandable that she - that all of us - would have a sense of O_O at seeing our intelligence, our motivations and our eloquence so misrepresented?

(And that's leaving aside the various slipshod analogies intended to express DG's sense of revulsion, all of which managed to include rather overblown disparagement, intentionally or not.)

THAT is the context in which hundreds of people responded with anger.

I can quite understand that for DG's regular blog readers, her characterisation of me, and of all my fellow writers of fanfiction, may not have provoked a sense of indignation or outrage - you don't know us. You could happily assume (and I have seen it continue to be posited somewhat spitefully over at the Books and Readers forum) that we are all wide-eyed, talentless, insecure teenage girls who are SCARED of creating our own characters and narratives.

But we aren't. We really, really aren't.

And although I understand that the scale of the response DG's blog post received must have been daunting, there were an awful lot of calm, courteous, reasoned posts elucidating this point. Despite ONE person out of hundreds who very rudely dismissed DG as "a hypocritical bitch", the vast majority of people there were either expressing their sense of shocked hurt (bless 'em) or else were trying to courteously explain to DG that she was labouring under several major misapprehensions about the motivations behind writing fanfiction.

We were not, in fact, the "poisonous vipers" DG was so courteous as to mock on her forum, whilst choosing NOT to read most of the comments. (Or so I assume, for she certainly seemed determined to maintain the notion that most - or indeed ANY - of us wanted to read or write fanfiction about her books, when it should have been quite clear that that was not at all what people were posting about.)

Katja said...

One more link. :)

Anonymous said...


What, exactly, makes idea behind a derivative work any less original than a source work? I'll give you that the characters and in some cases the setting are recycled from something else, but does the author's idea become any less original? It seems like (and I could be wrong as I can only interpret what you are saying through how it comes off to me) you are automatically dismissing any originality in fanworks simply on the tenet that pre-existing characters were used. I've read some pieces of original fiction that that were truly rubbish even if they were "original," and by the same token read fanmade fiction that was truly remarkable and original in idea--in some instances exploring things that I've yet to see in "original" fiction. So yes, I do believe that fanworks do hold their own value.

I do understand that you have your own opinion, and I respect that. However, I completely disagree with your comment that ficcers don't value originality. I'm not sure if that's how you meant it, but it sounded that way to me. We do value originality, very much so. I know I hate reading the same old same old when going through the fiction section at my local bookstore, and am more likely to purchase something that is new and different than something that has been done a million times over. The fact that myself and others like me sometimes decide to write derivative works based on a source material we've enjoyed does not, in any way, mean that we do not hold value in an original idea. It simply means that we were inspired by what we read and chose to expand on it. And isn't that what you said is the purpose (and reason) for original works being valuable? They've done their job, they've inspired. We've continued writing in the field that they opened to us. Sure, fanworks aren't ever going to be published, but that wasn't the original intent when they were written.

Anonymous said...

On the matter of how authors can make it clear to their fans what their policy is on fanfiction, the best solution is ridiculously simple: Just say so in the book itself, somewhere it's sure to be seen (such as the inside cover).

As pointed out, the vast majority of us are respectful of the authors' wishes, so mostly it's just a problem of not knowing that a particular writer doesn't like fanfiction (the only ones I'm aware of are the ones on ff.n's list). It would take very little effort to put your wishes in plain view of the reader before they even start reading, and that approach would most likely be completely effective.

Now, I think I should point out that there are two ways that fanfiction benefits the source work it's derived from.

For both of these points, I need to talk about the ficreader, who has been almost entirely left out of this discussion, and very unfairly so.

It probably goes without saying that ficwriters are invariably also ficreaders; but not all ficreaders are ficwriters. In general, a ficreader is a person who, once finished with a story, wanted more. I know the first thing I do when I finish an Anime, Manga, or J-RPG is hit the archives and try to dredge up some goodfic.

Now, what the ficreader wants more of might vary. Often, yes, they've fallen in love with a pairing and want to read about it - especially if said pairing is non-canon, since in that case the fics are the only way they can get it - but there are also a lot who just got to the end and wanted to know what happened next. Also, sitting down and discussing a story with other fans of it is all well and good, but to many ficreaders, seeing what another fan got from the story; how they saw the characters, what elements stuck in their heads, is much more interesting.

Okay, so having covered that, the first thing that fanfiction gives back to the original work is that it keeps the fandom alive and kicking. If your book managed to generate a decent sized pool of ficwriters then the fans who are into fanfiction will still be enthusiastic and eager to read a sequel, even if that sequel doesn't turn up for a decade.

The second thing is that ficwriters seldom restrict themselves to just one fandom; and, of course, they get their own following. So ficwriters offer some free publicity - for example, I was vaguely aware of the cartoon series "Invader Zim," but the art didn't appeal to me so I never gave it a chance until I noticed that several of the ficwriters I liked had written fanfiction for it, at which point I just had to find out what all the fuss was about.