dont ask me about my favorite characters because i will literally tell you their entire storyline and cry
I do believe in copyright. I think if anyone is going to profit from an artist’s work, it ought to be the artist. But obviously I disagree with Martin’s strong anti-fanfiction stance. I think, so long as no attempt is made to profit from it, fanfiction is a beautiful tribute to the original work—whatever it was. We could get into The Death of the Author and all that, but in the end, I think the best argument for the tolerance of fanfiction is existing, well accepted fanfiction.
Because, seriously, is Alan Moore any less guilty of fucking around with Bram Stoker’s Mina than I am screwing with Martin’s Brienne just because Stoker is long dead and the work is in the public domain? It may not be a legal gray area, but Moore has no more permission from the author than I do—no more moral right to play with a character someone else created.
Stories existed in communal form long before humans ever managed to tackle written language (or the printing press), passing orally from one generation to the next with twists and tweaks to match the politics and fashions of the moment or the mood of the storyteller. Bards sang one another’s songs and added their own verses and flourishes. And, of course, the literary world itself is littered with fanfiction: I mean, what is Dante’s Divine Comedy but a Mary Sue/RPF/Bible Modern AU? This has been happening since the first tale was told. Good stories breed more story. (And sometimes bad stories breed more story, but that’s another post.)
However! Fic authors are definitely fucking with someone’s beloved creations, there is no way around that. It’s a truth that has as much moral weight as a fic writer wants to give it. And certainly, it is a phenomenon of the Communication Age that most authors are alive and well to see their own work given this treatment. In the way-back, dark age, antiquated, terrifying, good old, before times of letters and books and periodicals, it was hard work to get fanfiction out into the world and by the time it was seen, it usually had some marginal hallmarks of quality that merited exposure. It’s safe to say Charles Dickens never saw Pip/Joe Sci-Fi AU. And I imagine Jane Austen never saw Wickham reform and have a torrid affair with his repressed sister-in-law Mary. There’s nothing wrong with these story ideas, but you can imagine they would have made the original authors’ eyes twitch a bit. So I have a lot of sympathy for authors like GRRM who must weep in the corner when they hear about Robb/Sansa fic (or its equivalent).
(And I actually think Martin makes an excellent point about fanfiction making writers lazy. Fic is great writing practice, but is no substitute for writing original work, and original characters.)
TL;DR fanfiction IS fiction and is going nowhere. Best to accept it. But if someone was messing with your babies, you probably wouldn’t like it either.
A note and a sidebar …
1) On fic writers who are partially writing in order to eventually write their own original fiction: lazy might be too strong a word for it, but as Sigilbroken points out already, it really isn’t a substitute for writing original fiction. And it does seem to me that both Glamaphonic and Sigilbroken are agreed on the fact that what fic writing is is great practice.
The writing skills employed for writing fic certainly don’t disappear when one writes original work, but on the other hand, a writer who writes fic IS building upon established material, and an established world. Isn’t part of the marker of what’s commonly considered a ‘good’ fanfic how well the writer’s captured the essence of an existing character? Or how well the writer’s woven in existing story and plot points into whatever AU they’ve come up with? Or how excellently they’ve mimicked the original author’s voice, style, atmosphere, et al? How often have I read comments and discussion on fic on whether or not characters were written OOC?
Obviously, those aren’t the only points readers use to determine what’s a good fic or not (the reasons they actually read fic in the first place would have a huge impact), and we can easily have a related discussion about fix-its for unsatisfactory execution in the original, and fanworks written entirely around bit players, and so on.
But my point is, no matter what, fanfiction is based on a specific object that both fic writers and fic readers explicitly acknowledge was created by someone else.To write a story from complete scratch—that is, not beholden to any already existing object in this very specific way that fanfic is—is a related, but ultimately different ballgame.
2) Sidebar (uh, and possible derail—) on what Tafkarfanfic brought up: The legal part of the matter, as Tafkar points out with the MZB case, does seem to present a much stickier issue, as it’s where philosophy about the aims of fanfiction collides with practical matters. What happens when the creator interacts with the fandom? Is that where the real messiness lies? What I wonder about is if the original creators of a work end up borrowing ideas from fanfiction, should perhaps fanfic writers concede the material without question? (Honestly, I’m not sure how one would sort that out without a paper trail.)
Maybe in an ideal world, the author would just leave fanfic well enough alone, neither engaging with it or seeking to quash it, for their own sakes (legally speaking) as well as their fans. And, fans would simply never be able to claim legal ownership of their own fic, while continuing to generate dialogue and conversation amongst themselves.
(OMG. I did not mean to write so much. Wonderful food for thought y’all brought up. Gosh I love fandom.)
I agree that only some skills from writing fanfiction are transferable to writing original fiction and said as much.
That said, I also think that your list of things that make a good fanfic isn’t quite right. Or rather, for the most part, I feel like you’re drawing the wrong conclusions from the facts presented. A writer capturing the essence of an existing character is a part of writing fic, but leaving it at that doesn’t take into consideration that there are many interpretations of an existing character, potentially as many as there are people in the audience; that’s why you’ve read discussions on whether characters are OOC so often. As such, writing a character “in character” is not a matter of achieving an objective standard. It’s a matter of executing your interpretation well enough that other people accept it and are compelled by it or engaged with it. Some people don’t bother and some readers don’t really care as long as the archetype is one they’re into or the names are the ones they want to see. But there are many people who do actually make the effort to present their version of a character as full and complete, and do this in many cases when the character in question hasn’t been at all realized and fleshed out in the source material. Do you think that those people aren’t actually gaining skills that will serve them well when characterizing in original fiction?
And yes a big part of AUs is weaving in existing story elements. But AUs can be so utterly, drastically, wholly different in scope, in tone, in detail, in setting, in literally everything from the canon and often, as I’ve mentioned, require fairly extensive worldbuilding of their own and that’s not even getting into all the AUs that actually just invent an entirely new storyline with very little commonality with the canon’s and focus more on characterization being the link. In such cases, do you really think that all that plotting and theme juggling and worldbuilding will never be of use to them in original fiction?
As far as mimicking voice, style, and atmosphere, not only are there are countless fandoms where that’s not AT ALL an expectation (and in fact I think there are more fandoms where it’s NOT than where it is), but countless more where voice and style can’t be mimicked in fic because the source is an entirely different media! And while I have no idea what the actual percentages are there’s a huge swath of fic that is DELIBERATELY the complete opposite of the atmosphere of the canon.
Ultimately, yes, fanfiction is based on a specific thing that both the writers and readers acknowledge was created by someone else. So too is a writing prompt, which is all the source material is to some people.
Z. ZZZ-Snatcher (last book that kept you up WAY late)
The last book that I read while in bed (and couldn’t put down) was The Complete Sherlock Holmes collection. The stories were short enough and often I’d find myself reading into the next adventure. I think it took me three or four days to read that entire book, a lot of times falling asleep with the book.
A to Z Bookish Survey
Put a letter in my ask for an answer!
A. Author You’ve Read The Most Books From
B. Best Sequel Ever
C. Currently Reading
D. Drink of Choice While Reading
E. E-Reader or Physical Books
F. Fictional Character You Would Have Dated In High School
G. Glad You Gave This Book A Chance
H. Hidden Gem Book
I. Important Moments of Your Reading Life
J. Just Finished
K. Kinds of Books You Won’t Read
L. Longest Book You’ve Read
M. Major Book Hangover Because Of
N. Number of Bookcases You Own
O. One Book That You Have Read Multiple Times
P. Preferred Place to Read
Q. Quote From A Book That Inspires You/Gives You Feels
R. Reading Regret
S. Series You Started and Need to Finish
T. Three Of Your All-Time Favorite Books
U. Unapologetic Fangirl For
W. Worst Bookish Habit
V. Very Excited For This Release More Than Any Other
X. Marks The Spot (Start On Your Bookshelf And Count to the 27th Book)
Y. Your Latest Book Purchase
Z. ZZZ-Snatcher (last book that kept you up WAY late)
I’m home home and reunited with all my book books. So can we do this?