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Making the Case for Fan Fiction (Part 2)

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Continued from Fan Fiction Part 1
The fact that these writers are made to feel ostracized and not part of the fiction writing community is actually frowned upon by many published writers. Bestselling author Naomi Novik, the author of Uprooted and the Temeraire series not only supports fan fiction, but is herself a writer of many fan fiction stories. She said fan fiction is really not that different from “real world” fiction writing:

“There are great fanfic writers and mediocre fanfic writers and terrible fanfic writers, just like writers in general, and just like with writers in general, who any given reader would put in each of those categories depends more on their taste and desires than on anything we can quantify,” Novik said. “I will say that a lot of the hostility to fan fiction is rooted in the “stuff girls do is icky” kind of unconscious misogyny, of course, and so I am militantly in favor of anyone writing fanfic if that gives them pleasure.”

She shares Quinn’s opinion that just because someone chooses to play music written by another musician, doesn’t even mean they want to play music professionally or for profit. “Yo Yo Ma is not less of an artist because he’s playing music written by Mozart,” she said. “Ella Fitzgerald is not less of an artist because she’s interpreting standards. That’s fan fiction, a different creative approach that can be applied within and across genres. “

Stephanie Gangi, author of The Next, a novel that made its debut this year, blames the Fifty Shades of Grey hysteria for her initial distaste of fan fiction. “I guess I had the stereotypical view: People who get obsessive and over-identified with a story. But when I thought about it, books like The Hours by Michael Cunningham (based on Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf), Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, and The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, are all in a sense, fan fiction. Those writers expanded and deepened stories that intrigued them, and I guess that’s what the more prosaic writers are doing too,” Gangi said. “I truly love beautiful writing, language that leads me into a mood or a dream, characters that push me to see through other eyes. When those elements are there, I’m there too, whatever the genre is called.”

Regarding Stephanie Gangi’s last statement, other writers, such as Liz Kay, Rae Meadows, Hannah Kohler, and Kim Hooper, expressed similar opinions about fan fiction, stating that overall they don’t see anything wrong with honoring a writer with derivative work. Liz Kay’s opinion is that perhaps, “the term is generally applied to ‘non-professional’ writers.” However, she clarified that the term “fan fiction” might be wrongly used as a way of signaling which voices count in literature, which she promptly categorized as “absolute bullshit.”

Art by Nia Nevarez.

Art by Nia Nevarez.

The truth of the matter is that the message sent to these writers is being read loud and clear. The very authors whose work they admire and seek to somehow pay homage to signal them as plagiarists and unoriginal. If that isn’t enough, they’re judged by readers too, and often even more harshly. My friend L. is an absolute fan-fiction hater, and often says that if she could personally tell them to fuck off, she would. “But a lot of them are really good,” I keep arguing. “They’re as good as anything you find in published works.” L.’s response: “Let them write their own stuff then, instead of copying off someone else’s work!”

I love my friend L. dearly, but there is no way to make her budge on the subject of fan fiction. Another friend, T and her friend C. are the complete opposite of L. They love fan fiction and also have their favorite roster of stories. Their tastes are albeit very different, C. preferring Harry Potter, anime, Doctor Who, and the BBC Sherlock fan fictions. T. leans more towards Love Sick (the series), the Takumi-kun series, manga fan pics, and “anything Rainbow Rowell related.”

What is about fan fiction that speaks to them? T. is emphatic in saying that she is extremely appreciative of these writers who provide an alternative source to a book series that an author has delayed to update. “Bless them. I’ve been left hanging by authors more times than I can count. There’s a need there, and fanfiction authors meet that need. I don’t see why I should have to wait for an author to die for it to be ok to read more about their characters than they themselves are willing or able to produce.”

C. is equally thankful that fan fiction exists to fill a particular void left by the creators of a series. “Fanfic writers allow fans of a show to explore the characters outside of the bounds of whatever their world is. What happens if Captain America actually loves Iron Man? What happens if Sherlock meets The Doctor? What happens if Hermione Granger discovers she’s a Sailor Scout? Fanfic writers fill those gaps and give their readers a chance to explore facets of familiar characters that they may not have seen before.”

At this point, it bears to pose the following question. Why don’t fan fiction writers use their talent for fiction and create original works? “I’m always writing,” Luxevergreen said. “Game of Thrones is just a guilty pleasure. Right now I’m juggling a rough draft for a book, doing research on another and working on an outline for a couple of graphic novels I want to do.”

Conversely, JaG points out the benefits of solely writing fan fiction: “I like having an audience, and I like getting feedback, she said, “When you write fanfic, you have a built-in audience to begin with. I enjoy writing a lot, but it’s never going to be my job. If I create my own characters and my own world, and it never gets published, who will enjoy it with me? Because that back-and-forth between your readers is what makes the time spent worthwhile.”

The other three fan fiction writers I interviewed stated that they had, in fact, published their own works. CaptainTarthister said despite having her work out there under her name, she was suffering from a particularly serious bout of writer’s block and saw writing fan-fiction as a therapy of sorts to deal with it. Rather than be affected by that (writer’s block) for who knows how long, I decided to write. If fan fiction is the only fiction I can write now, then damn it, I’m writing it. “Unlike Taylor Swift who picks up guys and bangs out a hit, I subscribe to discipline and that means putting myself in front of the computer and typing for an hour a day. If I’m going to be out, I take my notebook with me. I started writing fan fiction because I knew I was a good fiction writer, but that will only last for as long as I keep writing, any kind of writing”.

Downlookingup also has published under her real name, but agrees with JaG’s view that having a guaranteed audience for her work is gratifying.  “I’ve written several short stories in academic journals, and I know a lot of people who’ve written and published their original work as well,” she said. “There’s just something freeing (and some instant gratification) about writing something, publishing it shortly thereafter, and getting feedback from people. “

“This idea of mutual exclusivity between fan works and original works is bizarre” Quinn said. “Obviously, many fan-fiction writers do not write original fiction, but there is a vast number who do. There is a fairly large population of published authors who have written fan fiction or STILL write fan fiction, but of course they don’t use identifiers. It’s counterproductive to their career platforms. I work in the publishing industry and know this to be fact, but I would never spill the beans!” When I asked her why didn’t she publish stories under her own name with her own characters, Quinn added coyly, “Who says I haven’t?”

In making the case for fan fiction, I tried to see both sides of the creative spectrum — to understand the views of writers like George R.R. Martin and Diana Gabaldon who have a very real fear of their works being plagiarized by others seeking to profit from the characters and the stories they’ve created. But also to weigh in the opinions of fan-fiction writers and their readers who argue they really aren’t hurting anybody while filling a very real void left by series who have yet to be completed and in the process, exercising their own fiction writing and creativity.

I don’t think that being a reader of fan fiction makes me biased. If anything, it allows me to further consider how the writers, or at least the ones in the Jaime/Brienne fandom, have a deep respect for the original work, and far from seeking to plagiarize it, they want to honor it by creating different situations and different settings. One of the best Jaime/Brienne stories to date on Ao3, features Jaime Lannister as a football quarterback and Brienne of Tarth as a competitive swimmer, while maintaining their characteristic canon personalities.

Are these writers plagiarizing? Or are they using a clear narrative talent for the purpose of imagining well-known characters in scenarios that the creator never conceived? Jane Austen can hardly have imagined that Pride and Prejudice and its characters would be used to launch a story where the village of Meryton would be used as a backdrop for a zombie story, but I would like to think that she wouldn’t be enraged by people using her story in a way that is completely un-Austenesque and solely for entertainment purposes.

True, works belonging to Austen, Lovecraft and even the tightly lawyered Burroughs, are now public domain, and no longer under copyright protection laws. And it’s impossible to guarantee that some fan-fiction writer won’t one day do the wrong thing and attempt to steal someone else’s work and make a profit. Which explains bestselling author Stephanie Meyer’s stand against fan fiction when the derivative work of her Twilight series, Fifty Shades of Grey, went on to make a hearty profit for its mediocre writer, including cashing in on the sales for the rights to the Fifty Shades films. But that’s putting the honest writers, the ones who create fan-fiction stories as a tribute to the original creation, in the same boat with a few bad apples, and this hardly seems fair.

But the threat to terminate or at the very least to regulate fan works is very real. On December 17, Archive of Our Own issued an appeal to fans to sign a petition opposing a proposal by the European Parliament called The Copyright Directive. If approved, this directive would demand certain websites to filter “user-generated content,” which would put platforms like Ao3 in jeopardy. The U.K. Parliament also is debating a proposal regarding the proliferation and posting online of pornographic material, which could be extended to control fan fiction, fan art, and videos that are deemed unsuitable for people under 18.

Whether fan fiction can continue to thrive or if it will eventually be subject to severe restrictions under growing copyright laws around the world is hard to say. But to these writers, sites like Archive of Our Own and Fanfiction.net, allow them to explore new stories with existing characters, borrowing them for a while to take them on a different journey than the one plotted out by their creator, and then returning them safely at the end of the day.

Luxevergreen said it best, when asked why she bothered to write A Song of Ice and Fire/ Jaime and Brienne fan fiction: “It’s me telling him (George R.R. Martin), ‘Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for telling a beautiful story. Thank you for making me care so deeply about the characters and the world you’ve created. Thank you for a book that helps me to escape my problems a few hours each day. Thank you, Mr. Martin. Thank you for making me care.’ ”

Author’s note: Thank you to all the wonderful fan fiction writers who took the time to contribute to this article. I also thank fantastic writers like Stephanie Gangi, Liz Kay, Ray Meadows, Hannah Kohler, Naomi Novik, and Kim Hooper for their views on fan fiction. Not to mention fan fiction readers like  T. and C. ,whose love of these works motivate the constant production of great stories.

Brief Fan Fiction Glossary of Terms:

Beta Reader: Considered the sidekick of the fan fiction writer, the beta has the important task of reading, editing, and reviewing a story before it’s posted.

Crossover: A fiction that blends together two different stories.

Drabble: A fiction that is no more than one hundred words total.

Fandom: Activities, actions and fans that surround a particular show, film, book, book series, comic books, etc.

Headcanon: A concept, which may be shared by a group regarding certain storylines or characters.

OOC (Out of Character): This is one that often enrages fan fiction writers and readers. It refers to when in a fiction, a certain character behaves in a completely different way as he or she would in canon.

OTP (One True Pairing): An often outspokenly defended ship between two characters, which is considered the preferred one or the only one.

PWP (Porn Without Plot): Pretty self-explanatory.

RPF (Real Person Fiction): Fiction that features real life people.

RR (Round Robin): Fan fiction written by several authors, who each take turns writing a part of a chapter.

‘Shipper (relationshipper): Supporting or writing about a particular pairing, for example, Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth.

Ship or Shipping: To place two characters in a romantic relationship

Slash: A genre of fan fiction that features romantic relationships between two men who in canon, are usually heterosexual. (The variation “femslash” is applied to stories that feature two women).

WIP (Work in Progress): A fiction that is in the process of being written.

For more fan fiction terminology, go to expressions.populli.net/dictionary

Sources:

dailydot.com/news/sherlock-fanfic-caitlin-moran/

transformativeworks.org/say-no-to-fan-unfriendly-proposals-in-the-eu-and-uk/

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About Adriana Delgado

Adriana Delgado is a freelance journalist, with published reviews on independent and foreign films in publications such as Cineaction magazine and on Artfilmfile.com. She also works as an Editorial News Assistant for the Palm Beach Daily News (A.K.A. The Shiny Sheet) and contributes with book reviews for the well-known publication, Library Journal.
  • Anon

    I’m surprised that the whole Cassandra Clare Debacle wasn’t mentioned. That was definitely something that shifted the focus to negative for a lot of the fanfiction world, though it is a bit less culturally relevant now.

  • Michelle Rodriguez

    I think this is a great article. Writers are writers, who gives
    a damn if it’s fanfic. Sometimes, fanfic work is better than some of the
    most popular authors published today.

  • Anon

    Great article! That’s how I got into fanfics too. It’s sad that people feel the need to bash the efforts of others based on random entitlement issues and possessiveness. We get it… you think the characters and stories are yours and yours alone. No one likes people touching their stuff…Cool. That’s your version tho. Learn to share.