In Defense of Fanfiction

*This will get edited to a more reasonable length later, but I kind of wanted to post it now. For all you TL;DR’s out there, just click the link to read the Tubmlr post* 

A friend quoted this Tubmlr post on Facebook. Slight language warning.

I pretty much agree with this. I would simply emphasize that what made author’s works literature was what they did with the material they borrowed. Like Shakespeare took the play The Chronicle of King Leir and switched it up in a meaningful way to give us King Lear. The two are very different, I assure you.

I think the best form of art occurs when one either does what Shakespeare does or synthesizes what one learns, to come up with something new that retains elements of what’s been put together. As an amalgam, it is similar but not the same. Which is not to say that fanfiction is bad–it’s simply not the highest form of art, though it is still on the art ladder. It is something perfectly legitimate, creative, and interesting, and I hate when people dismiss it.

I won’t deny that there can be good reasons to hate on it: all the slash and pornography that’s written, for one. I hate that people write that stuff. But to be honest, that trash exists in fiction that gets published and paid for (even before Fifty Shades of Grey, people). Come on: romance novels? Any book that features explicit sexual content? I think it’s just because people don’t consider it original, or that they see favorite characters interpreted in ways that they don’t like, that people dislike fanfiction, or that they react with such horror to stuff they would normally tolerate in a more synthesized and seemingly original fictional world (which they shouldn’t tolerate in the first place).

Some authors strenuously object to fanfiction of their work. I can understand this to an extent: as an author one creates characters, forms them. They’re kind of like your kids. But the problem is, once you publish a work, or even just let someone read it, that character isn’t completely yours anymore. You cannot control how a person perceives or interprets your character. I’d love to see someone try–I know in my case, for example, that one of my favorite characters from a cherished series is officially blonde. Did that stop me from imagining him as a brunette through the whole series and only realizing how I’d forgotten his physical description after I finished it? No. Do I still imagine him as a brunette? Yes. Do I try to say that he is brunette and the author is wrong? Not at all! I acknowledge that he is a blond, no question, but I perceived him in a certain way based on what the author wrote and I don’t see any need to change my perception of him because I think I got the gist of his character.

That’s why, if this quote from this Wikipedia page is real, it irks me no end:

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, creators of the Liaden universe, strongly oppose fan fiction written in their universe. “I don’t want “other people interpreting” our characters. Interpreting our characters is what Steve and I do; it’s our job. Nobody else is going to get it right. This may sound rude and elitist, but honestly, it’s not easy for us to get it right sometimes, and we’ve been living with these characters. . .for a very long time… We built our universes, and our characters; they are our intellectual property; and they are not toys lying about some virtual sandbox for other kids to pick up and modify at their whim. Steve and I do not sanction fanfic written in our universes; any such work that exists, exists without our permission, and certainly without our support.”[52]

You create your characters, sure, and maybe you interpret them to some extent, but whether you want people to interpret your characters or not, they will, because that’s part of reading. Yes, the characters are the author’s intellectual property–most who write fanfiction acknowledge that and they don’t try to make money off of it. They write it because they like the universe and they like the characters. They’re not going to try and say, THIS is the only possible way the character is because I said so. The point isn’t to make everyone believe that this character is a certain way, it’s to engage with something we admire. And we know that the characters aren’t toys in a sandbox–but they’re not real people either. If you get made at people for changing your characters, then get mad at Shakespeare first for changing Leir into Lear.

I’m not saying that everything people do with fanfiction is right, either–in my opinion, if you’re going to write fanfiction, you should keep the integrity of the original intact–be as faithful to the world or the characters as possible, even when you write radically AU fics, even when you change how events occurred. And of course I’m totally against porn, yaoi, yuri, slash, incest, all that stuff.

I’m trying to think of it from an author’s position too: what would bother me most is to see my characters and my world used for porn etc., however well-written and in-character it may be. Sure, it would hurt to see them mangled by bad grammar, style, or OOCness too, but if it’s because people like what I did, then I don’t mind. And I’ve essentially given my characters away, though I still have a certain authority over them. Like teenagers–they have a will of their own, but I can still tell them what to do! And even if fans ignore Word of God in their fics, they still acknowledge it as Word of God.

This other stuff from the same Wikipedia page also gets my ire up:

Anne Rice consistently, and aggressively, objected to fan fiction based on any of her characters (mostly those from her famous Interview with the Vampire and its sequels in The Vampire Chronicles) or other elements in her books, and she formally requested that FanFiction.Net remove stories featuring her characters.[50] However, in 2012, Metro reported that Rice has taken a milder stance on the issue: “I got upset about 20 years ago because I thought it would block me,” she said. “However, it’s been very easy to avoid reading any, so live and let live. If I were a young writer, I’d want to own my own ideas. But maybe fan fiction is a transitional phase: whatever gets you there, gets you there.”[51] Similar efforts have also been taken by…others. Many authors do this, they state, in order to protect their copyright and especially to prevent any dilution, saturation, or distortion of the universes and people portrayed in their works.

Now, I totes understand the copyright issue, but the whole “dilution, saturation, or distortion of the universes and people portrayed in their works” thing–if they’re worried about first time readers getting the wrong impressions of a character from fanfiction, they’re being disingenuous. People who read fanfiction know that much of it can be OOC. In fact, if someone is OOC, a lot of people actually put that as a note on the fic. And I repeat–you cannot control how a reader receives your character. Characters get diluted, saturated, and distorted just by being perceived by someone other than the author.

And Anne Rice’s comment probably just strikes me as snitty because I’m in a snit right now, but the whole, “If I were a young writer, I’d want to own my own ideas”–urgh. Writing isn’t just about creating a world, about creating content, it’s about form. What if someone wants to put certain content into a particular form? That’s their own idea right there, and any new content they think of, new situations to put characters in, trying to imagine how a character would react to a situation that the original author never even thought to put them in.

I will concede she is right about fanfiction being a transitional phase in writing. But perhaps, for the less skilled and those who just want to enjoy doing soething they enjoy, it will be their final phase. And as she says, it’s pretty easy to avoid fanfiction if you don’t want to read it. It’s not like it gets slammed in your face all the time.

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