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Some time ago, during the discussions inevitably caused by the Anne Rice debacle, I said that I would discuss my views on fanfic. I've been thinking about this in bits and pieces since that point, because I have two views about it (generally, I have at least two about almost everything, except perhaps for the upcoming US election, and I will fail to discuss the single view I have because I'm not a US citizen).

My personal view -- and by personal I mean it is a view which pertains only to such things as they affect me -- first. So everything I say for the next few paragraphs is specifically about my work, or responses to my work.

I find it enormously flattering that something about my work speaks strongly enough to some people that they are compelled to write about those elements. I adore my characters -- pretty much all of them -- and I don't, umm, write a lot of sex, and much of the relationship stuff is subtle enough that even my mother missed it. I'm not sure how much room there is in the cracks of the story -- I tend to think that it's the books in which there are obvious wide and undocumented story spaces that lend themselves best to fanfic writing -- but I don't write fanfic, so what do I know? (Yes, I invite comment).

I'm perfectly happy to have other people write fanfic, and I find the fact that some people do want to do this flattering. I don't have any desire to read what they've written, however, and not just for legal reasons (as in, to avoid later being accused of somehow stealing their ideas, which did happen once, and caused a lot of authors who had previously turned a blind eye to turn a legal eye in its place); these characters have an arc and a life that's entirely on the inside of my Byzantine mind, and while I'm happy that they have an effect on other people, I like to keep that effect and my own sense of who they are completely separate. I don't want to have the "but they would never do that" reaction, because obviously -- to the people who did write the story -- the characters would.

This makes me somehow feel that I've been incompetent; that I've failed to write the characters in such a way that they're clear enough that this would be obvious. Which I realize is entirely beside the point. I'm not a good judge in that sense because I'm entirely too close to the characters. So the reading of secondary creation? It's not something I can reasonably do. I'm happy if others can, and if they build a community on that, even in a small way, that's fine with me; I can't be part of it, but I don't hate or decry it.

I have a different reaction to non-written things based on my work.

Someone recently gave me a CD of recorded variants of a song that she'd written; it's based on lyrics in one of my novels, and I adore it. I listen to it sometimes before I write because there's a sense of pride -- if that's quite the right word -- that comes when I realize that this music was inspired by something I created. It's like a gift in ways I can't explain. It would never have happened if I hadn't written these books. I would never have met the person in question, if I hadn't. And it's something I could never have done for myself; I'm not so musically inclined.

Some fan art has also been done, but I've seen only a little of it; someone sent me a "chibi diora", which I'd use as an icon if I had any graphics ability at all (I generally pass on all such task to my son's godfather; I'm willing to keep an network up and running, but I'm not willing to tangle with Adobe software; my bravery foolishness has limits.)

I find the fan art interesting because I'm not a visual person. It takes an enormous amount of work for me to see things as I write them; I have to externalize them, and I tend to write from a very internal perspective. When someone paints or draws their vision of a character, it doesn't clash with mine because I so seldom have a full-blown one; there are details that are important to me, but not so important that they destroy my curiosity or even enjoyment.

So. On a purely personal level, it's all good to me.

My professional view, however, is that my personal take is just that -- personal. I have no particular contempt for, annoyance at, or in fact, opinion on any other writer's views. If Robin Hobb emphatically states that there will be no fanfic about her worlds, that's her right. Actually, I'll take that back -- I do have an opinion (yes, yes, I know, that silence is not the silence of shock or surprise).

I believe that, in the case where the creator of the primary universe has so clearly stated her preferences, they should be respected. If, in theory, the drive to create works aligned with a world comes from the love of the world created, I believe that some deference is owed the creator of said world. Hobb is my example solely because I happened to be going through her web-site FAQ looking for information about her forthcoming novel for the store. There are plenty of other authors who have the same strong attachments to their characters and universes, and who decry the writing of any fiction in those universes, or about those characters, that doesn't originate from them, or through them.

That's their right. In speaking of my own preferences or opinions, I have no intention of stepping on their feet, or somehow lessening the respect I have for the way they exercise their rights. If they find it less then flattering, or even threatening (I realize that the whole copyright question is grey, and different lawyers fall on different sides of the argument), I think they have the right to do what they have to do to be able to sleep at night, as it were.

Comments

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blythe025
Oct. 19th, 2004 12:52 pm (UTC)
And I completely agree.

I mean, I think you have said exactly my feelings on the subject, too. (Except that I don't have any published work for people to write about.
stakebait
Oct. 19th, 2004 01:11 pm (UTC)
I do write fanfic and I agree, the books that lend themselves most to fanfic are the ones with wide open story spaces to fill in. But that said, most books have wide open gaps before and after the action, if not during, and almost all books have the might have beens of what could have gone a different way. So there's room for fanfic in most things if you're looking for it.

The texts -- books or plays or TV shows or what have you -- that I'm most interested in looking for room for fanfic tend to be character driven, because it's the characters that carry over. They tend to have relatively transparent writing styles, because if what I love the books for is the narrative tone (as with Pratchett or Austen) I'm unlikely to capture it to my satisfaction, or to be happy without it.

They tend to have large worlds that derive their sense of reality from our seeing hints of more complexity than we ever can see fulfilled, because even if there's no space in the story per se, there's space in the universe for other stories.

They tend to have a largish cast of characters, because that increases the number of conversations, conflicts, and relationships that could have happened but didn't.

And they tend to have themes that resonate with what moves me to write. There are many, many books I love reading but have no desire to write in, because I have nothing to say with those tools.

I'm also more likely to write fanfic for an ongoing series, because there's something about that waiting for the next installment that stimulates what-ifs. If it's a stand alone book, or a series that's complete before I come to it, I may still want something more or something different, but not as often.

I'm also more likely to write fanfic for something with an active fan community, because I know someone will want to read it, and because their comments and ideas spark my own.

I don't, personally, write fanfic in any universe where the creator has asked that fanfic not be written. (I have once written in a fandom where as far as I know the author has expressed no opinion.) For me this is a question of manners. I would, however, be fine with writing in a fandom where the actual creator is fine with it, but the rights holder (TV or movie studio, or publishing company) was not.

I don't, however, go quite so far as to say no one else should defy an author's stated wishes. I can think of situations where the drive to create works aligned with a world would come not from love of the world but with frustration at a good idea with its potential wasted, or a driving desire to show what is, in your opinion, missing or wrong with the original story, or where one's initial love of a world is equaled or exceeded by one's grief at what has been done with it afterwards.

I agree that the creator of the world deserves some deference, but I don't necessarily think that deference trumps all other considerations. To me fanfiction is a form of artistic conversation, as parody is, or retellings like the Wind Done Gone or Wicked. As such I think this is one of those situations, as with academia, or book reviews, or politics, where good manners may be not always be more important than a robust dialogue.
msagara
Oct. 19th, 2004 01:22 pm (UTC)
I agree that the creator of the world deserves some deference, but I don't necessarily think that deference trumps all other considerations. To me fanfiction is a form of artistic conversation, as parody is, or retellings like the Wind Done Gone or Wicked. As such I think this is one of those situations, as with academia, or book reviews, or politics, where good manners may be not always be more important than a robust dialogue.

This is an interesting take on fanfic that I hadn't considered. In all of the other situations you posit -- parody, review, academia -- the forms are also published, and the theme of public discourse can be more clearly seen (to me, at any rate); the idea of a public discourse in which half of the argument isn't public is interesting. I have to think about it a bit.

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zhaneel69
Oct. 19th, 2004 02:15 pm (UTC)
Your personal view is close to mine.

My professional take:

If I know an author has said "No FanFic" I won't write any [not that I ever have written any, mind, but I've been tempted]. I suspect I don't know every author's views and believe that many fanfic authors don't necessarily know that the author has expressed a distaste. Frex, until this post I had no idea Robin Hobb had a stance on her characters.

The comment from stakebait made me think. I believe anyone should be able to write fanfic. I just don't think that people should run around posting it or publishing it if the author has said "No."

I can write as many Valdemar take-offs as I want, involving Vanyel and Elspbeth [his Great*50+ Granddaughter] in whatever circumstance I want, AS LONG AS I DON'T PUBLISH THEM. IMO. If Misty has said [I don't currently know her stance] no fanfic, then I would be wrong to peddle them around to Valdemar communities (of course, I would also be wrong for being untrue to the characters and breaking huge amounts of cannon).

As such, I believe that fanfic authors should feel free to write whatever they want. And perhaps even share with 1-3 friends. But if the author has made a statement, I believe that any fanfic author who knows about such statement should not start a FanFic group or post said fanfic publically.

Professional courtsey.

Zhaneel
madwriter
Oct. 19th, 2004 02:22 pm (UTC)
I also think I'd be flattered if someone wrote fanfic based on my stuff. My only real worry might be that they write my characters better than I do. :)
(Deleted comment)
zhaneel69
Oct. 20th, 2004 09:46 am (UTC)
I don't find it threatening, I find it emotionally much like the time I gave a homeless person a coin and he spat at me. I emphatically don't give permission, and if I find someone doing it without my permission I'll go to any necessary lengths to stop them.

Really great simile.

Zhaneel
dark_geisha
Oct. 19th, 2004 03:54 pm (UTC)
Your opinion of fanfic is pretty much the same as mine. It does bother me when people ignore an author's wishes and go ahead with writing a fanfic and spreading it all over the internet. I understand wanting to show your love for a work you admire; in a way, that's flattering. But at the same time, it's disrespectful to the author.

I do think -- the internet being what it is and such -- it is a good idea for an author is set down the "ground rules" for her creations. Robin Hobb says no. Neil Gaiman says he doesn't care. Jacqueline Carey says you can play in the world, but can't use the characters in her novels. There is the issue of that information not disseminating to the masses, but overall I do think it works with the younger and younger generations since we're so connected to the internet.

On another note, if your son's godfather won't make the Chibi Diora into an icon, I'd be more than happy too. I have fun with Adobe Photoshop. :)
msagara
Oct. 20th, 2004 12:20 pm (UTC)
On another note, if your son's godfather won't make the Chibi Diora into an icon, I'd be more than happy too. I have fun with Adobe Photoshop. :)

I'm not sure who actually did the art; I'd love to use it, but I'd have to actually hunt them down and ask. I do have a small .gif of it, but someone sent it so I could look at it; I'm not sure how they'd feel if I iconized it <wry g>.
twiegand
Oct. 19th, 2004 03:58 pm (UTC)
I don't write fanfic. I have enjoyed many a fine story and created world that has left me speculating on the characters or storylines yet I have never felt the desire to write in someone else's realm. The stories I want to tell come from me and I would feel I was a thief to take the labor and creativity of another and co-opt for myself. On the other hand, I will freely admit that some works have given me inspiration to examine and develop a story that is independent and has nothing in common, other than that germ of an idea, with the work of the author.

The stories based on an author's work that I truly want to see, if the work excites me, are the stories that the author is telling or going to tell. I want their views and expressions of opinion, love, theology, sociology or whatever. This permits me to examine my views and possibly change them for the better.

If somebody feels the desire to write fanfic, I would let them provided it is for personal use only. What they write in that manner is their business. I feel no need or desire to see it.

If an author wishes that there be no fanfic based on their work, I see it similar to a no tresspassing sign on their property. That doesn't mean that no one is allowed on the land but that you must get permission to be there first. You may still view the property from a distance but you don't get to tromp all over it and pollute what is there.

I thank all of the writers I know that they allow others to enjoy their efforts and the results thereof.
trektone
Oct. 19th, 2004 04:29 pm (UTC)
I have a different reaction to non-written things based on my work.

I've only slightly considered songs I've written based on others' stories "fanfic" but your rumination has made me think about this a bit more. In your example, someone else put music to your lyrics, but they were still your words. If someone wrote a song based on one of your characters or stories, would you consider it fanfic? Even if it's a straight-ahead plot summary (don't like those kinds of songs myself), it would still be a point of view different from yours because it's not your writing, isn't it? And if the summary is not what you thought you wrote, wouldn't that be a case of "hey, they wouldn't do that or it didn't go there?"

What about poetry based on or "inspired by" your stuff? You wouldn't want to read it?

While I've always considered these songs I wrote derivative works (fun panel at the Toronto Worldcon last year, btw) and have yet to have a negative reaction by the author, I try to be very sensitive to both their preferences and legal position in this matter.

So would you sue me if you found out I wrote and performed a song about Kallandras doing the horizontal mambo with (fill in the blank)? Or would you simply not want to hear it? Or would you want to hear it but not read it? :)
msagara
Oct. 19th, 2004 04:45 pm (UTC)
I'm going to pretend that you're not doing this to poke subtle fun at me. Because I trust you. Really <g>.

If someone wrote a song based on one of your characters or stories, would you consider it fanfic? Even if it's a straight-ahead plot summary (don't like those kinds of songs myself), it would still be a point of view different from yours because it's not your writing, isn't it? And if the summary is not what you thought you wrote, wouldn't that be a case of "hey, they wouldn't do that or it didn't go there?"

As we saw in "Once More With Feeling" you can specifically state things -- in words with music attached -- that you cannot state without the music without sounding hopelessly, derivatively, horribly bad. The words one chooses for songs are therefore by structural nature different than the words one chooses for novels. So, in that case it would be like the art: An interesting interpretation, a different way of viewing.

What about poetry based on or "inspired by" your stuff? You wouldn't want to read it?

No, I probably wouldn't. But that would partly be because of the various types of less than professional words on the 'net, the ones that cause me -- this is me, curmudgeon, crank, grouch -- intense personal wincing pain is the poetry. If someone professional wrote poetry based on it? I probably wouldn't be able to tell what its source was. So I wouldn't care, at that point.

While I've always considered these songs I wrote derivative works (fun panel at the Toronto Worldcon last year, btw) and have yet to have a negative reaction by the author, I try to be very sensitive to both their preferences and legal position in this matter.

So would you sue me if you found out I wrote and performed a song about Kallandras doing the horizontal mambo with (fill in the blank)? Or would you simply not want to hear it? Or would you want to hear it but not read it? :)


This would be, I believe, considered either "satire" or "parody". You may remember that in open filks, both Thomas and I had a penchant for the Serious songs (and that I made folkmew sing "Lullabye for a Weary World" on every possible occasion, which would be anytime I laid eyes on her and she could actually hear me). So, no, I would not sue you, and yes, I would be amused because it is you, but I'd still probably ask MEW to sing "Lullabye". Well, or Light Sailor, which I heard once and have been obssessing about recently :/.
matociquala
Oct. 19th, 2004 04:48 pm (UTC)
Succinctly and sharply put, as always, and exactly parallel with my own policy on such things.

You rock. *g*
msagara
Oct. 19th, 2004 08:14 pm (UTC)
Succinctly and sharply put, as always, and exactly parallel with my own policy on such things.

The curse of the on-line people is that they're doomed to repeat what's been said before, and often better <wry g>. I could have just pointed to your earlier comments and said "this".

Having said that, I'm aware that a number of people aren't fans of fanfic. I don't generally read it, so it wasn't until fairly recently that I was aware of just how much fanfic is written; it seems to be a huge movement of its own, and all 'underground'.

I know that in Japan, the equivalent of fanfic is published (the Doujinshi), and I'm wondering how that's done -- if the creator signs away the rights, but is still acknowledged otherwise.
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jediboadicea
Oct. 19th, 2004 08:35 pm (UTC)
I will try to stop glowing and floating and gibbering happily, and try instead to contribute something meaningful to the discussion. :)

I think your point about showing deference and respect for the author, their work, and their wishes, is of the utmost importance. I have written a lot of fanfic in my day, but never for a story whose author/creator has made it clear that fanfic is not acceptable. (When I hear that, any desire I might have had to do so is lost. It isn't even a matter of whether or not to "share" it - I simply have too much respect for any author to muck about in their creation if I know it would upset them.) And even in the case of an author whose reaction to fanfic is either indifferent or even positive, I think a respect for the integrity of the work and the author's vision is absolutely necessary. I feel that if you love an author's work enough to want to write fanfic, then you should also love them enough to respect their wishes. At least in public.

To be honest, I don't often feel compelled to write fanfic for books. For movies and tv series, yes - probably because these go straight into the brain as character essence, with little to no narrative patterns in tandem. With a book, the essence of the reading experience is the composition of the actual words, and in general if I loved the words enough to love the book, then chances are I'm not going to want to muddy that perfection with my clumsy interjections or alterations. In most cases, with books, the thought doesn't even occur to me.

There is only one book for which I have ever written fanfic, and this is because it combined two very important and complementary elements for a fanfic writer. One - it had countless, countless gaps to be filled. Two - the actual writing of the story was not what impressed itself upon me. Reading this story felt more like watching a tv series; I could see and love the characters, and the action, but the quality of the actual words did not cast a lasting shadow on my mind.

All that said, I admit that I'm not entirely sure why there are some stories for which I feel comfortable writing fanfic, and some for which I don't. In the end, the number on the "comfortable" side is very small. (Though sometimes this is hard to believe, given the output.)

I think, however, that the biggest lure and reward of fanfic is the sense of community shared with other fans in the process of sharing the work. Without this, I don't think there are many people quite obsessive enough to write a derivative work purely for their own private enjoyment. I happen to be one of them, but that's neither here nor there, nor particularly healthy. < wry g >

In a community sense, fanfic is often regarded as the basis for a shared sense of writer's workshopping. I have heard the argument (countless times) that writing fanfic is a good way for aspiring/beginning writers to cut their teeth on the craft. I'm afraid I don't agree with this, but among fanfic writers, I am in the minority on this issue. I tend to be of the opinion that writing fanfic is like shining someone else's shoes -- you're undoubtedly improving your polishing ability, but becoming an expert shoe-shiner, even one with style and flair, is not going to turn you into a cobbler. The best way to sharpen your cobbling skills is to make your own shoes. Polish purely for the joy of it, that's my motto. < g >
lnhammer
Oct. 19th, 2004 08:50 pm (UTC)
I confess I find the whole issue of fanfic, well, boring. I'd ignore it completely, if it weren't that what I do to Greek mythology lies somewhere on the front end of the {fanfic/reuse/retelling/commentary/allusion} spectrum, and it's slashy to boot. So I really ought to be paying attention, at least to the theory. Not that we have a good literary theory of fanfic, or even much in the way of critical tools beyond the concept of mimetogenic works.

---L.
oyceter
Oct. 19th, 2004 10:07 pm (UTC)
Curious question: When do you think an author's works enter into public domain?

I'm not sure if "public domain" is quite the term I'm looking for, but I'm thinking of assorted published novels (ex. Cosette or Scarlett or Wide Sargasso Sea) written about the same characters and in the same world as other published novels.

This is going to sound horribly mercenary or cold-hearted or some such, but while I can very much understand respecting an author's wishes while the author is alive and probably several generations after, do you think that their works ever pass a point in which they.. not belong, but.. are more in the hands of the public, I suppose?

I ask mostly because I think many people see a very clear delineation between writing different takes of famous novels of the past versus fanfiction.
msagara
Oct. 19th, 2004 10:17 pm (UTC)
I ask mostly because I think many people see a very clear delineation between writing different takes of famous novels of the past versus fanfiction.

I think people see a clear delineation because of the venue. Those books that are takes on past famous novels are, well, books. They've been published as books, and no one has been sued. Which wouldn't happen if, say, someone wanted to publish an TV-related fanfic, or Harry Potter related fanfic in a traditional channel -- not without a bunch of permissions that would make a lot of lawyers richer <wry g>.

I'm not saying that this is entirely reasonable; rather, I'm offering an explanation for why it's viewed differently. It does become a dialogue of sorts with the past because both things are in the same form.

I'm not sure how to answer the question -- and no, to me it doesn't sound mercenary. Laurie King's take on Holmes wouldn't exist without the prior work, for instance.
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rosamund
Oct. 20th, 2004 12:56 am (UTC)
I've written fanfic for various TV shows and movies, as well as taken part in RPGs.

In fact, taking the part of an unsympathetic character taught me a couple of very useful lessons about "villains".

I think I can understand why an author might not want to read fanfic, or even not have it out there at all. Maybe it changes the characters for them.

As a slash writer myself, perhaps I have an unfair advantage. I know which characters are likely to be slashed and we've talked it over. Maybe it would be different too if they weren't so well-defined. Hell, some of them even have a sense of humour.

Oh, yeah, and then there's the fact that I've done it to my own universe with a couple of alternative path pieces.

I think I'd feel intensely flattered that my stories resonated powerfully enough to inspire a stranger to write their own response.

If any of that made sense, I'll be surprised. It's both far too early and late.
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