Folks have been talking more about fanfiction lately, partly in response to an incident that took place at a Sherlock Q&A session, in which Caitlin Moran brought up Sherlock fanfic, and pushed two actors to read an excerpt of what turned out to be sexually explicit fanfic. Without permission from the author. For what was presumably supposed to be a joke. Because fanfiction is funny, and tricking people into reading sexually explicit stories in front of an audience is funny, and so on.
Yeah, not so much. But it does highlight the disdain with which a lot of people view fanfiction, the idea that it’s “lesser” writing, that it’s all laughable, amateur crap, and so on.
I’ve talked about fanfiction before–
–but it’s never been something I chose to write myself … until last month, when I was listening to my kids watch Christmas special #1,826, and my brain wandered off to imagine what a Rudolph vs. Frosty throwdown (snowdown?) would look like. So I wrote up a quick, silly little introductory scene of Frosty killing an elf guard at the North Pole, because hey, that’s what writers do when something interesting burrows into our brains. I posted it on the blog because I enjoy sharing the things I write, and I thought people might get a kick out of it.
I didn’t expect to get so caught up in the story. The plot bunnies dug deeper, eventually setting up a nice, snowy colony in my temporal lobe. I ended up writing a ~6000 word story and posting each scene as I went — something completely foreign to my usual writing process, which involves multiple completed drafts and rewrites before I let anyone else see what I’ve written. (Click on the Crimson Frost cover if you’d like to read the finished story.)
While this isn’t likely to become a habit — I also have contracted fiction to write, and I really like being able to pay my mortgage — it was certainly educational and eye-opening. Not to mention a lot of fun.
Here are a few of the things I took away from the experience.
Writing good fanfic is just as challenging as writing good anything else. I’ve sold close to 50 pieces of short fiction in my time. That silly little Frosty story took as much work as any piece of professional fiction I’ve done. I struggled with plotting and characterization, I lay awake at night trying to work out the problems, I went back and did last-minute edits before each scene went live. Sure, it’s possible to write lousy, half-assed fanfiction, just like it’s possible to write lousy, half-assed anything else. But nothing about fanfiction makes it inherently easier to write than other kinds of fiction.
Instant feedback is dangerously addictive. I turned in the manuscript for UNBOUND a few months ago, but it will probably be close to a year before I start to hear from readers. Whereas I’d post a scene from Frosty, and people would be commenting and emailing within minutes. I like this whole instant gratification thing!
Fanfic can be freeing. As I wrote this story, I found myself playing in ways I don’t allow myself to do in professional fiction. I dropped a Jurassic Park reference into one scene. I amped up plot twists and cliffhangers. I took risks with things that
I can do “realtime” writing. The scariest part of this thing was changing my writing process. I didn’t know how this story would end when I started writing. I would post one scene without knowing what would happen in the next. I was terrified that I’d get stuck and the story would die a miserable death, like a Bumble choking on a hairball. Or that I’d figure out that the story needed to go in another direction, but it would be too late. But I did it. There are some things I’d go back and change in revision — more foreshadowing of the importance of memory, for example — but the story worked. And for me, that’s a huge and exciting victory.
A writer is someone who writes. I’ve never understood why some people jealously protect the coveted title of “Author” or “Writer.” The way I see it, if you write, you’re a writer. I don’t care if it’s 100,000 words of professionally published novel or 100,000 words of Star Trek fanfic. Having done both profic and fanfic, I don’t get it. Calling someone who does fanfic a writer or an author doesn’t in any way diminish or dilute me and my work. Why is this even an argument?
Like I said, I’m not planning to make a habit of this. And I won’t be changing my policy about not reading fanfiction of my own work. But writing this story was a fun, interesting, and eye-opening experience.
And for the record, anyone who’s ever thought about who would win in a fight between the U. S. S. Enterprise and an Imperial Star Destroyer, or whether or not a kryptonite-powered lightsaber could kill Superman, or if Marcie and Peppermint Patty were gay, or whether or not Ferb was actually a Time Lord, or if Tron survived his fall in Tron: Legacy and if so what happened next … y’all might want to shore up your glass houses before you start hurling stones at fanfic and the people who write it.
Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N | Lulu] picked up reviews at SciFiChick (“This must-read collection…”) and Romantic Times (“…a fabulous introduction to Hines’ writing, his world of goblins, and his world of Libriomancy all in one — who can pass up a 3-fer?”)
A month or so back, I was invited to write a guest blog post for the Organization for Transformative Works. Here’s a sneak peek:
I’ve seen the whole spectrum of opinions, from “Fanfiction is the Devil’s Prose!” to “Fanfiction is so much better than that commercial dreck.” I don’t buy either view. Fanfiction is fanfiction. Some is brilliant. Some is abysmal. Fanfic authors sometimes get criticized for not writing commercially, but that makes as little sense as criticizing a fantasy author for not writing fortune cookies. For most of us, we write what we love, and we do it because we love it.
Full post is here.
Finally, does anyone else remember M.A.S.K., an 80s cartoon and toy line about vehicles and buildings with hidden weapons, concealed mini-vehicles, and also lots of masks? Orion Pax (the same individual who built a transforming Optimus Prime from LEGO) has been working on LEGO M.A.S.K., including a working version of Boulder Hill, the good guys’ HQ.
We had these toys! I remember playing with this set. This blows my mind. Click here or the thumbnails for the full photo set.
The Snow Queen’s Shadow, draft 2.0, is done! There’s a lot of work to do for draft 3.0, but I have a pretty good idea what the biggest problem is with this draft, and how to fix it. (At one point, I thought I had everything worked out and I might actually be able to wrap this book up with only two drafts. Such a pleasant little delusion…)
I was talking to a friend the other day about my last fanfic post (MZB vs. fanfic), and commented that it’s not the actual fanfic stories that intrigue me. What fascinates me is fanfic as a phenomenon. The fact that there are communities out there devoted to fanfic, that it’s an entire culture.
It’s equally fascinating to see how passionately some profic authors react to fanfiction.1 Some strongly support and encourage fanfic authors, while others view fanfic as the BP of the literary world, spewing toxic crap all over their beautiful works. The anti-fanfic arguments I’ve seen generally fall into several categories.
1. Fanfic is badly written. Forgive my bluntness, but this is a stupid argument. Sure, a lot of fanfic is bad. A lot of anything is bad. With professionally published fiction, you have editors and agents screening out the worst of it, but I’ve still read plenty of published crap. With fanfic, while there are some quality controls in place, I don’t believe there’s as strong of a gatekeeper effect … but so what? If it’s bad, don’t read it.
2. The legal problems. I’m not going to rehash the MZB case, but while the facts found were incomplete, I don’t see where the existence of fanfiction poses a legal danger to me as a commercial author.
3. They should write their own characters/worlds. I.e., anyone wanting to be a “real” author should work on original fiction. Okay, I can buy that writing original fiction is the best practice for writing original fiction, just as the best practice for writing novels is to write novels. But why assume everyone wants to be a commercially published author like me, that fanfic exists only as the means to some other end?
4. They’re miswriting/changing/warping my characters/worlds. Believe it or not, I kind of understand this one. I came across fanfic from my goblin series a while back, and my gut response was that they were writing the characters wrong. In my opinion, the dialogue and the actions were not in character … but again, so what? I don’t have to read it. And even if the characters in that story are fundamentally changed from what I wrote, how does this hurt me?
It’s that last question that finally made me decide to change my policy on fanfiction. Because I can’t think of a single way fanfic hurts me as an author. And I can think of ways in which it helps. I’ve seen first hand as fans found my princess series, got excited about the fanfic potential, and handsold the book to their friends.
If someone convinces me fanfic can harm me as an author, or that I’m better off disallowing it, I reserve the right to change my mind. But for now, I’m updating my fanfic policy to the equivalent of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Please don’t ask me to read it or tell me about it, but beyond that, so long as you’re not trying to sell it, have fun!
This is partly a follow-up to my MZB vs. Fanfiction post from last week, and partly a response to a much-linked post at http://bookshop.livejournal.com/1044495.html which answers author criticism of fanfiction by saying, “You’ve just summarily dismissed as criminal, immoral, and unimaginative each of the following Pulitzer Prize-winning works…” The post presents a list of works including the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthologies, the Tina Fey skits of Sarah Palin, Gaiman’s brilliant Holmes/Cthulhu story “A Study in Emerald,” and many more.
A recent (now deleted) post by a commercial fantasy author described works like Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, among others, as fanfiction. Though when I asked about my princess novels (fairy tale retellings), she stated that they were not fanfiction.
I’m officially confused. To me, this feels like a very broad definition. I’m not going to try to argue that my personal definition of fanfiction is the right one … but it’s difficult — almost pointless — to have a conversation when you can’t agree on what the words mean.
Do we define fanfiction from a legal/licensing standpoint? If so, anything published either with the legal permission of the copyright holder (Star Trek: Strange New Worlds) or based on public domain works (“A Study in Emerald”) would not be fanfiction.
Almost every fanfic author I’ve spoken to has explained that the culture of fanfiction strongly condemns commercialization of fanfic … if that’s so, then isn’t the bookshop LJ post violating that fundamental tenant by listing so many commercially published works?
For a much deeper legal analysis, see http://scrivenerserror.blogspot.com/2010/05/a528x.html
Or is fanfiction a matter of originality? If so, my understanding of the term becomes so fluid as to make it almost meaningless. What is a truly original work vs. one that takes inspiration from elsewhere? Are my Goblin Quest books fanfiction because they riff off of Dungeons and Dragons tropes? Is 90% of the fantasy genre nothing but Tolkien fanfiction?
I couldn’t find a fanfic definition on the Organization for Transformative Works site, but I did find this statement: “While some transformative works legitimately circulate in the for-profit marketplace — parodies such as The Wind Done Gone (the retelling of Gone with the Wind from the perspective of a slave), critical analyses that quote extensively from an original, ‘unauthorized guides,’ etc.—that really isn’t what fanfic writers and fan creators in general are doing, or looking to do.”
When I think of fanfiction, I think of two things:
I also agree with scrivnerserror about excluding parody from fanfiction (the Tina Fey skits). I see them as two different kinds of storytelling. (Parody has its own legal definition as well.)
Like I said, I’m not saying my definition is the Right one, nor will I argue that it’s complete. (It wouldn’t include the Scalzi/Wheaton fanfic fundraiser, for example.) But it’s my starting point for understanding fanfiction.
What about you? Do you buy bookshop’s claim that all of these works are fanfiction, or does that stretch too far in an attempt to defend fanfic? Does commercialization really matter? What’s your definition?
Most writers, both commercial and fanfic, have heard some version of the Marion Zimmer Bradley “cautionary tale” regarding fanfiction. In one version, Bradley was a generous, nurturing author who encouraged fanfiction until a greedy fanfic author tried to sue her, torpedoing a book in the process. In another, Bradley had was preying on helpless fanfic authors, using their ideas to perpetuate her publishing empire.
If we’re going to toss this story around every time we talk about fanfiction, it would be nice to have a few facts to go with the fourth-hand accounts, guesswork, and rumors. Michael Thomas and opusculus have both posted about the MZB incident lately, and provided inspiration and starting points for my own write-up. But I wanted to dig deeper, and to avoid the wiki-style sources which in my opinion aren’t as reliable for this sort of thing.
To put my own biases out there, one of my first sales was to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. I later sold a story to Sword & Sorceress XXI. In addition, I’m published by DAW, which also published Bradley’s work. I’ll leave it to you to read and decide whether this influences my research and write-up.
First hand statements are in red. I’ve included links wherever possible.