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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

msagara
Oct. 20th, 2004 12:14 pm (UTC)
A bit off topic, but I've always found movie tie-ins or TV-related novelizations to be incredibly boring, even though I enjoy fan fiction. I think part of it has to do with the legalities -- as a reader, I know that whoever is writing the official tie-ins doesn't have as much license, and as such, the book is generally not going to dramatically change the canon of the universe. No one is going to be killed off permanently or fall in love with someone unthinkable, etc. But I think that has more to do with keeping a franchise alive than with the intrinsic nature of a published tie-in.

The first few Trek novels -- which were written by SF/F authors who had published other work but had a fondness for Original Trek -- were published before Next Gen was a glimmer in anyone's eye. Because of this, they could do almost anything in those books, and some of the old books were fabulous. John Ford's Final Reflection, for instance. But once the Next Gen show had been established the licensor cracked down on the plots and those books became a lot less fun in every possible way.

And yes, there are limits on the novels. I did write a Buffy short story (Summer Vacation), and I so badly wanted to write a Buffy novel -- it was the only time I've felt that I could, because I knew who all the characters were at the beginning of the second season; the cause and effect changes didn't start to fluctuate until season 3, imho. But... at the time, well into Season Three, the bible had become this: There was no Mayor. There was no Faith. Angel had kind of ... not died somehow, and they were all living in second season Sunnydale. And in that amorphous atmosphere, I couldn't see the clarity or sharpness of the characters. The short story was enough; I really enjoyed writing it, I appreciate the right of the licensor to make decisions on the characters, and I disagreed with some of their decisions -- but it taught me a lot, and I'm not sorry I did it. I would have written more, as I've said elsewhere, but as a Buffy story, I didn't get positive feedback from it until long after it had been published, and this clearly indicated to me that whatever it was that I saw or that spoke to me in that show wasn't what was speaking to other readers.

I've always wondered about the slippery slope -- most people would consider fairy tales and myths public domain, despite the fact that there are authorial sources for some. Some people would consider "famous" novels or stories of the past few centuries public domain, while others don't, ergo lawsuits against Wind Done Gone. And most people would consider contemporary novels solely the author's property. Hee, this is probably what I would have ended up writing my thesis on had I not gotten sucked into anime ;).

I consider what's done with source to be as important as the source. Myths, religion, fairy tales -- the reason they work as source material is that they're in theory part of the greater public consciousness. So any reworking of the elements takes that greater awareness and subverts it, or modernizes it, casting it in a way that sheds light on the here and now from the vantage of the greater mythic scope.

oyceter
Oct. 20th, 2004 09:02 pm (UTC)
I consider what's done with source to be as important as the source. Myths, religion, fairy tales -- the reason they work as source material is that they're in theory part of the greater public consciousness. So any reworking of the elements takes that greater awareness and subverts it, or modernizes it, casting it in a way that sheds light on the here and now from the vantage of the greater mythic scope.

I definitely agree! I think part of the attraction of fan fiction for me is that certain TV shows (I rarely read fanfic based on books just because the difference in authorial voice really throws me off) have become part of my own personal mythology. As such, it's horribly graitfying to find other people who share that same "mythology" and who are creating a dialogue/monologue/whatyouwill with it via LJ or mailing lists. So while Buffy or Angel may not be part of the greater public consciousness of the world, it is a large part of the greater public consciousness among many people whose LJ's I read... it's a little like sharing a secret language.

I think because of that level of community, works that would normally not have been on the same level of myth or fairy tales are elevated to that level because of that shared language. It's also interesting because I think fanfiction (along with, of course, reviews, discussion, and etc.) does create a sort of discussion between the reader of the fanfic and the text itself. I've read fan fiction that has changed my point of view of some characters on Buffy or Angel and made me see parts of the show in a different light by being able to concentrate on a specific theme or image.
msagara
Oct. 20th, 2004 10:13 pm (UTC)
I definitely agree! I think part of the attraction of fan fiction for me is that certain TV shows (I rarely read fanfic based on books just because the difference in authorial voice really throws me off) have become part of my own personal mythology. As such, it's horribly graitfying to find other people who share that same "mythology" and who are creating a dialogue/monologue/whatyouwill with it via LJ or mailing lists. So while Buffy or Angel may not be part of the greater public consciousness of the world, it is a large part of the greater public consciousness among many people whose LJ's I read... it's a little like sharing a secret language.

I think this is what stakebait is getting at as well; I just didn't catch it in quite the same way on the first read. My bad. I loved the show, and loved to bitch about the show, but I think much of early Buffy spoke to mythologies that were already present for me. So my reaction is slightly different; it's not better or worse, just different. I can pick up the language, I can talk about the show endlessly -- but it's not settled roots in me in a way that could make it part of my internal landscape.

If I do a riff on Beauty and the Beast, for instance, I can reconfigure it in so many ways it's not recognizeable to a vast majority of readers. Or I can stay close to its roots, and play it out in an entirely different context. I'm playing with what's already there. To do that with Buffy I'd have to be writing something that wasn't Buffy, if that makes any sense. Transfiguring the source wouldn't work in the same way as working with it. Retelling Buffy in an entirely different context wouldn't be Buffy for me.

It's partly because there's so much that's already mythic in the show; elements of Buffy that have already come from elsewhere. Not the character herself -- but she's a hero, worked into a modern context, with modern subtext.

If I retell B&B (the fairy tale, not the show), I can name Beauty anything I want; I can name the Beast anything I want; I can make his castle a penthouse; I can make his curse different; I can make the resolution different in a way that still speaks to the original.

If I retell Buffy, I don't have that leeway. Writing about an adolescent who is the chosen one and who has to come to terms with the responsibility of duty and power is already done all the time; I would have to turn it inside out, but still have it be recognizeable when it's been remade. I'm not sure if I'm stating this clearly -- does this make any sense to you?

oyceter
Oct. 20th, 2004 10:26 pm (UTC)
I think it makes sense to me, especially from the point of view of a creator as opposed to the POV of the reader/consumer. It's much easier to take the structure of Cinderella or B&B or Snow White and transplant them in modern retellings or fantasy novels. Whereas Buffy hasn't quite reached that archetypal status for most people. For me, I think it has, or else I've started seeing so many archetypes in it that a loving boyfriend turned monstrous or a sacrificial suicide/suicidal sacrifice automatically remind me of Buffy.

But yeah, I think re-writing Buffy for the commercial market would be particularly difficult without impinging upon copyright, while fairy tales are more creative commons. And while fanfiction is very far from commercial (at least in most places I've seen), it is very hard to identify with the stories without having the specific story of Buffy in one's head, while a retelling of a fairy tale would be much more resonant without identifying details.
queenalia
Oct. 22nd, 2004 04:59 pm (UTC)
fairy tales
I'm on a storytelling mailing list (people who stand in front of live audiences and tell stories, storytelling), and this is a theme that occasionally crops up-- people will be telling a fractured fairy tale, and suddenly realize that the audience (of any age) doesn't know the original.

It's caused a couple of people to concentrate on the old stories, and avoid the variations, because how can you have parody or satire without the original? It's scary to them/us that no one else is focussing on that.

(And then there's the kids who say, when you're telling Cinderella, "But what about Bippity Boppety Boo?" which either leads to an interesting discussion about the impermanent, fluid nature of the oral tradition, or hysterics on the part of the teller...)

going back to lurking, but i am really interested in this conversation,
alia
msagara
Oct. 23rd, 2004 06:25 pm (UTC)
Re: fairy tales
It's caused a couple of people to concentrate on the old stories, and avoid the variations, because how can you have parody or satire without the original? It's scary to them/us that no one else is focussing on that.

I can understand this; and 100 years from now? our culture myths may very well be derived from television or other sources of mass entertainment -- although I'm not so certain. I know that fairy tales and children's books have often achieved longevity because they're passed from parent (or aunt, or grandparent) to child, down a line (like me and Little Women or Narnia); my early exposure to fairy tales that weren't Disney were the Andrew Lang Fairy Books (blue is my favourite. If anyone is asking).

(And then there's the kids who say, when you're telling Cinderella, "But what about Bippity Boppety Boo?" which either leads to an interesting discussion about the impermanent, fluid nature of the oral tradition, or hysterics on the part of the teller...)

I can see how it could lead to both <wry g>. Also, different cultures have different takes on what constitutes "appropriate for children" entertainment. Some of the old German fairy tales? Really old, and really, really unfriendly -- to children <wry g>. Lots of fingers being lopped off, and lots of children starving or freezing to death as a sort of comeuppance.

I'm wandering <g>.