I began this examination of fan fiction in response to two online articles I stumbled across on the subject on the same day: one from Time and the other found here at Flavorwire.com. I felt inclined to throw in a bit of support for fan fiction given that I started out in my youth as a fanfic writer – something I believe has helped me develop into the writer of original fiction that I am today.
In my first two posts, I reminisced about fun times spent writing in fandoms with friends, and also looked more closely at why writing fanfic can be educational for developing writers, yet why one shouldn’t assume that all fanfic writers are developing writers.
My goal for this series of posts, however, in the same vein as both of the aforementioned online articles, is to be balanced. So, having already covered the good of fan fiction, we now come to the bad.
In the Flavorwire.com article, someone called Fortytwo posted the following remarks in opposition to fan fiction:
I stopped writing fan-fiction because I started to believe it was an infringement of something very personal. A character-author relationship can be very personal and important to the author, and, in some cases, I’d say it’s roughly equivalent to someone taking your childhood imaginary friend and putting them in their own situations. Seeing that can actually be hurtful. [I]t requires a great deal of emotional investment in a world and characters to finish something like a novel. [T]the original canon is still something that’s often fiercely personal to the author. It’s art, an expression of its writer[.]
This is perhaps the most cogent argument against fanfic I’ve ever encountered – much more so than talk of plagiarism and copyright infringement, which would technically only be occurring if a fanfic writer a) tried to pass the copyrighted characters/settings/situations off as his/her own, and/or b) tried to make money off of his/her use of the copyrighted elements.
While theoretically possible, such an occurrence seems extremely unlikely. This is due to both the extreme ease in which money changing hands (not to mention advertised goods for sale) can be tracked in the modern computer age, and to the code of honour that seems to underlie fanfic communities in which writing is only for fun and never for profit.
But people’s feelings are not so easy to dismiss, particularly those of a work’s originating author.
Bestselling fantasy author Jacqueline Carey, when asked how much of her own self can be found in her often rather unconventional characters, typically replies, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “Just enough”.
It seems to be a fairly accepted notion within the artistic world, though, that all forms of creative expression arise from personal experience. And whether these experiences are hurtful ones (emotional pain does tend to favour creative expression, and vice versa) or joyful ones, the key word here is that they are personal experiences. Fans of a copyrighted creative work generally never know the full extent to which the past has fed into an artist’s output, or how the artist feels about that past in the present.
For some authors, the act of bring forth their work may have involved a lot of soul-searching and reliving and struggling to make sense of it all even still that fans never see. For other authors, their work just involved a lot of manual labour – months and years spend slogging away on a project and making sacrifices for it – and they don’t want that effort trivialized.
In the Flavorwire.com article, Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin states, “My characters are my children[.]” For some authors, bringing forth something so personal may indeed be as profound and life-changing as giving birth, and to see their creations so readily employed to someone else’s means and ends with so little care for how they came to be, extremely painful.
The existence of the internet certainly doesn’t help those authors who’d rather keep the proliferation of fan fiction based on their source material to a minimum. There was no internet back when I was writing fanfic, so my stories were shared by way of either notes passed in school hallways or passing over my sole handwritten draft, and were shared only with close friends.
Today, with the internet, it’s possible to share one’s fan fiction with the world.
Two popular fan fiction sites, FanFiction.net and Archive of Our Own, together contain more than 2.3 million stories. The Harry Potter section of FanFiction.net now contains 591,254 stories (compared to 526,085 at the time of the Time article’s publishing in July of 2011), and as of April 22, 2012, according to Wikipedia, FanFiction.net’s top 20 fandoms contained nearly 1.4 million stories (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FanFiction.Net#Most_Popular_Sections).
That equates to a whole lot of sharing of stories about someone else’s characters/settings/situations. And while our mothers probably taught us all how important it is to learn to share, that’s not to say what’s being shared is necessarily a good thing.
Because, quite frankly, fan fiction is notorious for being badly-written.
Mine certainly was, but thankfully, through study of writing craft and determination to improve, I became a better writer.
But for those who aren’t writing fan fiction as a form of writing practice – those for whom it’s simply a hobby done for its own sake – there may never be any improvement in their storytelling abilities, for there’s no incentive for them to put in the effort to do so. Even those who are writing fanfic to develop their skills may be bad writers at first.
This may be hugely offensive to the artistic sensibilities of source material authors, this idea that not only are people “making off with their children”, not only is it plastered all over the internet for all the world to see, but the resulting stories are often poorly conceived, poorly structured, and very poorly written. It may be very embarrassing for the source material authors. We all know the feeling of being discomfited by something we ourselves didn’t do – that cringe-worthy, stomach-churning sense of mortification on someone else’s behalf.
Now imagine experiencing that feeling half-a-million times.
Now imagine that 91,254 is still too generous a number of well-written Harry Potter fanfics.
You might eventually come to dislike fan fiction too.
That was a brief look at some of the bad aspects of fan fiction, but those of you who recognize the pattern I’m following to subtitle these posts (i.e. The Good, The Bad…) know that it’s about to get ugly. Please, stick with me. But in the meantime, I am curious: can folks out there relate to this idea of character-creation being a highly personal thing that draws from sensitive past experiences? Or are you more like author Charlie Stross, who in the Flavorwire.com articles, states, “I am not a precious sparkly unicorn who is obsessed with the purity of his characters[.]” A combination of both perspectives? Consider leaving a comment.