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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.


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.
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.

Oct. 20th, 2004 07:58 am (UTC)
Huh. Interesting! For my part, I never considered it not public. I post my fanfiction to the Internet. I won't be arrogant enough to think much of the public is interested in reading it, but a few do and all can. And even the more restricted zine or mailing list publishing strikes me as much like the APAs of old -- a small audience, but still a public one.

It's not professionally published -- that would be treading the wrong side of the deference line, as well as weakening a fair use legal defense, and anyway no reputable publisher would touch it. But it's still out there, and being read and critiqued by fans of the original work and the occasion fan of the fannish writer.

Fanfic is even covered in the press periodically (though usually not well.) It's even being studied academically, though that's just beginning to branch out from a sociological "why do these people behave like this?" method into consideration of fanfic as a text like any other. I guess I'm not clear what the criteria for public are?

The most awkward part is that the creators themselves tend to avoid seeing it, as you say, so there can't be a response from them directly. But as with most book reviews, fanfic isn't really aimed at a conversation with the author, it's aimed at a conversation with the other readers about the author's work.
Oct. 20th, 2004 09:48 am (UTC)
Been thinking more about this. What makes it not public is the attempt to fly under the radar of the Powers That Be, right? Or at least not actively draw their attention? Though how much that's done varies quite a bit from creator to creator. I know of at least one mailing list, read and posted to by the author, where fanfic is simply labeled "fanfic" so she can avoid reading it, but there's no attempt to pretend that it doesn't exist.

Still, it does happen. It's more like an underground newspaper, in that sense. Which, I would argue, is still entitled to do book reviews and write political editorials.

I'd rather everything were aboveboard and able to be openly discussed, but that's where that legal grey area comes in. As long as fanfic writers can't afford to be a test case, it's just easier to keep your head down and hide, in the crowd if not altogether. That also becomes a manners question -- of not endangering fellow community members, and of not forcing someone to take notice of something they were turning a blind eye to.

In that sense it's almost like a pre-Stonewall gay community. Not entirely public, but not entirely private either. But I think if it *could* be entirely public, it would be. It's when certain forms of discourse are banned or chilled that they go underground. If that then disqualifies them as discourse, I think we have the potential for a catch 22.
Oct. 19th, 2004 09:18 pm (UTC)
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 a very interesting point. On certain levels, I agree with you. In the same way that I feel fans (or an audience in general) have the right to discuss and debate the source material which has drawn them together, I agree that fanfic can be seen as an extension of this discussion.

However, extension though it might be, I do see a dividing line between discussion and fanfic, thin or otherwise. It's a line which may not actually prove of much signficance... until or unless the creator of the source material weighs in on the matter. This distinction may be purely a matter of my personal comfort with the issue, but I know how I would feel, as an author, if I explicitly asked for people to respect my creation, only to have that request ignored.

That said, I also (sometimes) feel that the more... vituperative... requests made by some authors to that purpose seem to have at least the result, if not the intent, of insulting the fanbase rather than defending the creator's position. In this, as in everything else, there are good and bad examples of both sides.

Ultimately, however, I think my discomfort with the idea that fanfic can, in some cases, trump deference to the author, stems from what I consider to be the slippery slope of the whole "my interpretation is more valid than the author's" mode of thinking. I realize that this is loosely based in a general school of thought in regards to approaching literature as a whole, but then, it makes me uncomfortable there too. < wry g >

I have seen the "personal interpretation matters more than authorial intent" argument produce vehemently defended fanfiction which stands in direct opposition to the source material which inspired it, and when it comes to that point I guess I just have to wonder why one would be writing fanfic for the story at all, if seemingly what one desires to do with it is merely to produce something which no longer resembles the original material anyway.

I realize, however, that this is not the argument you're making. :) I'm merely attempting to explain why I personally lean first toward the "deference trumps all" side of the fence, in general.

But as an eager fanfic writer myself, I can say that I totally understand/agree with all the examples you listed, as reasons for feeling compelled to write derivative fiction.


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.

This is key, for me. And also why I feel very comfortable writing fanfic for tv or movies, but very rarely comfortable writing it for books. Unless the writing style is relatively transparent, I don't feel comfortable or even eager to wade in; I'd much rather read it by the master, because that's what I love about it in the first place - the fact that it's never something I could have crafted on my own, and therefore something that can move me in ways nothing I write ever could.
Oct. 20th, 2004 08:17 am (UTC)
::nods:: I am more of the reader response school of criticism, which probably does influence my relative proritizing. I'm interested in authorial intent, but I'm firmly of the belief that there's more to be found in any text than the author intentionally put there -- largely because of how very often hindsight or someone else has pointed out something I didn't consciously put into my own stuff.

Indeed, I think it is applicablity to more than was ever dreamt of by the author that keeps certain texts relevant long after their contemporaries.

For me it's not so much a question of *more* valid than the author's. It's more like... cloudwatching. I see a rabbit in the clouds, and the fact that the clouds didn't intentionally form into the shape of a rabbit doesn't mean the shape's not there now. It also doesn't mean you're wrong if you see a cat instead.

Not that that prevents me from thinking some readers must be smoking the good crack, or getting irritated with fanfic which seems to run directly counter to canon without even making an attempt to reconcile the two. I'm right there with you on "but then why are you bothering to call it fanfic?" although someone recently posted an essay about archetype v. character in fanfic to metablog that I think provides a partial answer.

Part of the reason I don't see a dividing line between discussion and fanfiction is that in general I think there are things that can be said in fiction (or in music, or in painting) that can't be said in prose. Or even if someone could, there are people who speak fiction who don't speak lit crit.

If we can't stand to lose those contributions to the general conversation (and we can't, hence why fiction is protected speech), I don't want to lose them from the specific conversation about a particular work of art, either. This is also why I support sampling and collage.

That's not to say I wouldn't be hurt if, as an author, I asked people not to and they did. But I'm sure I'd be hurt by bad reviews too. That doesn't mean I think people shouldn't ever write them.