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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

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 >